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Volume 22

a journal of feminist theory

Volume 22 Numbers 2±3 July±November 2012

Punk Anteriors: Genealogy, Theory, Performance CONTENTS Introduction: Threads and Omissions

Fiona I.B. Ngoà and Elizabeth A. Stinson

165

Articles

Riot Grrrl, Race, and Revival Mimi Thi Nguyen

The First 7-inch was Better: How I Became an Ex-punk Nia King

Punk in the Shadow of War Fiona I.B. NgoÃ

Work that Hoe: Tilling the Soil of Punk Feminism Alice Bag

``Freakin' Out'': Remaking Masculinity through Punk Rock in Detroit Katherine E. Wadkins

Writing Zines, Playing Music, and Being a Black Punk Feminist: An Interview with Osa Atoe Elizabeth Stinson

Means of Detection: A Critical Archiving of Black Feminism and Punk Performance Elizabeth Stinson

173 197 203

Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory

Women & Performance:

Issues 2–3

July–November 2012

ISSN0740-770X 0740-770X ISSN

Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory

233 239 261 275

&

Black Love? Black Love!: All Aboard the Presence of Punk in Seattle's NighTraiN Jasmine Mahmoud

Sodom's Daughters: The Removed and Forgotten Black Female of Punk Culture Gigi McGraw

Preserving Contradiction: The Riot Grrrl Collection at the Fales Library Lisa Darms

Soundtracks

L. Brawner and E. Stinson

we are destroyers of the status quo Mariam Bastani

REMOTELY FEMALE Iraya Robles

I HATE HISTORY Ceci Moss

Making Waves: Other Punk Feminisms making sure the FREAKY LADIES get represented Katherine E. Wadkins

325 335 343 345 347 353 355 361

Book Reviews

Joshua Javier GuzmaÂn

Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness Jessica N. PaboÂn

363 366

Performance Review

Ethan Youngerman

371

July–November 2012

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

Issues 2–3

Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage (A Chicana Punk Story)

Volume 22

Mimi Thi Nguyen

315

Punk Anteriors: Genealogy, Theory, Performance


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Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory Managing Editor Kara Jesella, New York University Editorial Board

Lydia Brawner, New York University Barbara Browning, New York University Patricia Clough, CUNY Graduate Center Pamela Cobrin, Barnard College Danielle Goldman, The New School Elizabeth Kurkjian, New York University Debra Levine, New York University, Abu Dhabi Tavia Nyong'o, New York University Krista Miranda, New York University Alex Pittman, New York University Elizabeth Stinson, New York University Jeanne Vaccaro, The University of Pennsylvania

Advisory Board

Patrick Anderson, University of California, San Diego Alicia ArrizoÂn, University of California, Riverside Yvonne Yarbro Bejarano, Stanford University Kate Bornstein, Performance Artist and Author Jennifer Brody, Northwestern University Catherine Ceniza Choy, University of California, Berkeley Joshua Chambers-Letson, New York University Rey Chow, Brown University Kandice Chuh, University of Maryland Jennifer Doyle, University of California, Riverside Karen Finley, New York University Sharon Holland, Northwestern University John Jackson, University of Pennsylvania Janet Jakobsen, Barnard College Jill Lane, New York University Jose Esteban MunÄoz, New York University Sianne Ngai, Stanford University Cynthia Oliver, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Peggy Phelan, Stanford University Jasbir K. Puar, Rutgers University Juana Maria Rodriguez, University of California, Davis Rebecca Schneider, Brown University Alina Troyano, Performance Artist

Book Reviews Editor Krista Miranda, New York University Performance Reviews Editor Elizabeth Kurkjian, New York University Intern Summer Kim Lee

Aims and Scope:

Mission Statement

Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory is a peer-reviewed, triannual publication featuring scholarly essays on performance,

dance, ®lm, new media, and the performance of everyday life from interdisciplinary feminist perspectives. We encourage dialogue between various ®elds of performance scholarship (performance studies; theatre dance, and music history and criticism; ethnography; cinema and cultural studies; queer and post-colonial theory), and explore critiques of race, ethnicity, class, technology, and nation. About us Women & Performance was founded in 1983 by graduate students in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Since its inception the journal has operated as a feminist collective. After self-publishing for 23 years, Women & Performance was acquired by Routledge, Taylor & Francis (www.tandf.co.uk). For further information please visit our website at: www.womenandperformance.org or contact

Women & Performance

665 Broadway, Suite 611 New York, NY 10012 USA

Business correspondence including orders and remittances relating to subscriptions, back numbers and offprints should be sent to the publisher: Routledge Journals, Taylor & Francis, Customer Service Department, Sheepen Place, Colchester, Essex CO3 3LP, UK. Tel: +44(0)1256 813 002; Fax: +44(0)1256 330 245. ß Women & Performance Project Inc. Cover Image: Photograph from Allison Hamilton, Committee (Brooklyn, NY: 2010). Courtesy of Allison Hamilton, Copyright Allison Hamilton.

Notes for Contributors

Women & Performance

The Editorial Collective of invites submissions of scholarly essays on performance, visual and sound art, theatre, dance, ritual, political manifestations, ®lm, new media, and the performance of everyday life from interdisciplinary feminist perspectives. We also welcome performative texts; interviews; book, performance, and ®lm reviews; and photo essays and images that advance critical dialogues on gender and performance. accepts proposals for themed issues from guest editors. We publish scholarship that is interdisciplinary and provocative in method and form. 1. All work should be double spaced, with 1-inch margins, in 12-point Times font. 2. Scholarly essays should not exceed 10,000 words; reviews should be approximately 1,000 words. 3. Writers should follow the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition. 4. All manuscripts must be submitted with a cover document ± including author's name, address, email, phone number, a brief bio indicating af®liation, recent publications; a 200-word abstract; and a word count of the manuscript. To protect the anonymity of the submission process, please avoid listing your name anywhere in the body of the manuscript. 5. Please title your attachment with your last name, for example: title the manuscript as YourLastName.doc, and any images as YourLastNameImage1.pdf and YourLastNameImage2.pdf and so on. 6. You are welcome to submit images along with your manuscript; however, please ensure that you have (or will) secure copyright protection for all images. cannot aid in, or ®nancially contribute to, the procuring of copyright. We will send you an acknowledgement of receipt once your submission is processed. The Editorial Collective vets all submissions before they are sent out for external, anonymous peer review. We provide reader comments, and may ask you to revise and resubmit your work. The journal makes every effort to respond to submissions within three to six months. Book reviews of no more than 1,500 words may be sent to reviews@womenandperformance.org Performance reviews of current exhibitions, ®lms, parades, performance art, dance and theatre may be sent performancereviews@womenandperformance.org References. The journal follows the Author-Date referencing system. Please refer to the latest issue of the journal for style on citing references in the text of the article and the reference list. A few common examples of references are given below:

Women & Performance

Women and Performance

Chicago Manual of Style

Journal

Chalmers, D., and A. Clark. 1998. The Extended Mind. ( ) Edelman, G. M. 1991.

Book monograph

Analysis 58(1): 7±19.

Bright Air, Brilliant Fire. On the Matter of the Mind. New York: Basic Books. Chapter in an edited book Block, N. 1995. ``Can the Mind Change the World?'' In Philosophy of Psychology, Debates on Psychological Explanation. Vol. 1, edited by C. A. Macdonald and G. F. Macdonal, Oxford: Blackwell. First published in 1990.

Titles of journals should not be abbreviated. All references should be cited in the text. Corresponding authors will receive free online access to their article through our website (www.informaworld.com) and a complimentary copy of the issue containing their article. Reprints of articles published in this journal can be purchased through RightslinkÕ when proofs are received or alternatively on our journals website. If you have any queries, please contact our reprints department at reprints@tandf.co.uk. Copyright: It is a condition of publication that authors assign copyright or licence the publication rights in their articles, including abstracts, to Taylor & Francis. This enables us to ensure full copyright protection and to disseminate the article, and of course the Journal, to the widest possible readership in print and electronic formats as appropriate. Authors retain many rights under the Taylor & Francis rights policies, which can be found at: http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/authorrights.pdf. Authors are themselves responsible for obtaining permission to reproduce copyright material from other sources.

Typeset by Glyph International, Bangalore Printed and Bound in Lancaster, PA, USA by Cadmus


Women & Performance A Journal of Feminist Theory Volume 22

Numbers 2–3

July–November 2012

Punk Anteriors: Genealogy, Theory, Performance CONTENTS

[7.12.2012–3:09pm]

Introduction: Threads and Omissions Fiona I.B. Ngoˆ and Elizabeth A. Stinson

165

Articles Riot Grrrl, Race, and Revival Mimi Thi Nguyen

173

The First 7-inch was Better: How I Became an Ex-punk Nia King

197

Punk in the Shadow of War Fiona I.B. Ngoˆ

203

Work that Hoe: Tilling the Soil of Punk Feminism Alice Bag

233

‘‘Freakin’ Out’’: Remaking Masculinity through Punk Rock in Detroit Katherine E. Wadkins

239

Writing Zines, Playing Music, and Being a Black Punk Feminist: An Interview with Osa Atoe Elizabeth Stinson

261

Means of Detection: A Critical Archiving of Black Feminism and Punk Performance Elizabeth Stinson

275

& Black Love? Black Love!: All Aboard the Presence of Punk in Seattle’s NighTraiN Jasmine Mahmoud

315

Sodom’s Daughters: The Removed and Forgotten Black Female of Punk Culture Gigi McGraw

325

Preserving Contradiction: The Riot Grrrl Collection at the Fales Library Lisa Darms

335

Soundtracks L. Brawner and E. Stinson

343

we are destroyers of the status quo Mariam Bastani

345

REMOTELY FEMALE Iraya Robles

347

I HATE HISTORY Ceci Moss

353

Making Waves: Other Punk Feminisms Mimi Thi Nguyen

355

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making sure the FREAKY LADIES get represented Katherine E. Wadkins

361

Book Reviews Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage (A Chicana Punk Story) Joshua Javier Guzma´n

363

Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness Jessica N. Pabo´n

366

Performance Review Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo Ethan Youngerman

371

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Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory Vol. 22, Nos. 2–3, July–November 2012, 165–171

Introduction: Threads and Omissions Fiona I.B. Ngoˆa* and Elizabeth A. Stinsonb a

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Department of Asian American Studies and Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL, USA; bDepartment of Performance Studies, New York University, NY, USA

‘‘You are killing me with your formalities’’ – The Slack Republic

‘‘Committee,’’ the photographic image that graces the cover of this special issue, announces our intentions in compiling the writings, images, and sounds found herein. Taken by Allison Janae Hamilton as part of an ongoing photo essay on Afropunk in Brooklyn, the image centers women of color within the punk scene, rewriting the idea of margin and center, announcing feminist power. Such revisions to the historical meaning and framing of punk rock have circulated since the genre’s inception. This issue seeks to capture the performance of those revisions, bring them to the fore, and conduct a genealogical mapping of critical race and feminist thought within the punk movement and its scenes, music, ethics, and aesthetics. For this introduction, we frame these interventions with the phrase ‘‘punk anteriors.’’ The process of anteriority, for us, focuses specifically on excavating and capturing punk’s blowback and debris, including past and present critical race and feminist artefacts and performances so often left unaddressed, despite their centrality to the making of punk, its politics, its scenes, and its forms of resistance. Echoing Tavia Nyong’o’s assertion that ‘‘Punk may be literally impossible to imagine without gender and sexual dissidence’’ (with the important addition of racialized dissent), we propose to re-tell punk stories to reflect these foundational disruptions.1 In reimagining what ‘‘comes before,’’ then, we understand punk much like Hamilton’s photo, as being already about race, gender, sexuality, and power, and as being produced by and for people of color, as a revision to statements that baldly make claims such as ‘‘hardcore was white music.’’2 We use the word ‘‘anteriors’’ in the title of this issue to think through the included articles that address punk spaces and remnants, plotting what might come before, or anterior to, the telling of punk’s stories in two senses.3 First, punk anteriors is temporal, interrogating punk’s (always seemingly) resistant genealogy and questioning the source of politics and performances for punk. For example, what if we imagine punk springing from women of color feminisms, as Mimi Thi Nguyen and *Corresponding author. Email: ngo@uiuc.edu ISSN 0740–770X print/ISSN 1748–5819 online ! 2012 Women & Performance Project Inc. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2012.721080 http://www.tandfonline.com


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F.I.B. Ngoˆ and E.A. Stinson

Elizabeth A. Stinson contend in this issue, rather than from the Sex Pistols? Second, we mobilize punk anteriors in the material and spatial sense of place, bodies, and archives. That is to say, we re-consider the context for the everyday performances of punk as occurring within atmospheres of imperial design; racial, feminist, and anarchist social movements; and immigration, poverty, and dislocation. For instance, Katherine E. Wadkins examines Detroit in the midst of a global recession and the Black Power movement and Fiona I. B. Ngoˆ looks at Los Angeles as a city entangled in U.S. imperial enterprises, in order to consider specific historical and geographic punk contexts. With these frameworks in mind, we pose several questions for ourselves and others thinking about punk’s legacies, ‘‘its specific histories, its present formation, and its possible future(s).’’4 What can be resituated in front of the generic narratives of punk’s beginnings and mainstays as a form of resistance? How do we utilize queer and feminist punk analytics to address these narratives, to form anteriors – spaces before or in front of the body of punk – that allow us to view it differently? While some valuable feminist critiques of punk have surfaced – mainly to lionize the riot grrrl movement – many uneasy questions around race, nation, and sexuality remain unarticulated in feminist and gender performance scholarship. Where do articulations of racial formation, gender, nation, and sexuality fit into these given notions of punk origins, temporalities, and classisms? Is it asking too much of feminism to develop punk epistemologies and sensibilities that can be used to examine critically punk’s exclusions? The interdisciplinary articles and writing in this issue attempt to address the performances and politics of these omissions, to make these kinds of theoretical moves, in order to interrupt the stories of punk we have all been told for decades, and, simultaneously, to see how punk might interrupt or form our notions of feminist, queer, and critical race theories and practices. This issue elaborates upon, and is indebted to, a growing body of scholarship addressing various and vexing subjects within punk scenes as well as how identities and meanings are created through this dynamic and politicized subculture. The structure of Women & Performance, especially with its ‘‘&’’ section, gives us the unique opportunity to bring together academic scholarship with memoir, journalistic writing, creative prose, interviews, photography, and soundtracks. We are excited to explore this mix of genres as a way to convey ideas about race, imperialism, feminism, and sexuality through not only multiple voices, but also through multiple modes, with the hope that these various ways of writing might appeal to different readers and offer multiple provocations, as well as address similar issues from direct and oblique paths. Interest in punk as an academic object of study has been increasing of late with collections such as Punkademics: The basement show in the ivory tower and White riot: Punk rock and the politics of race appearing recently along with writings by Tavia Nyong’o, Jayna Brown, and Michelle Habell-Palla´n, amongst others.5 These new works have built upon existing academic scholarship by authors such as Dick Hebdige, Paul Gilroy, Roger Sabin, and Daniel S. Traber that address race, imperialism, and punk.6 In addition to these writings, punks have expressed opinions for years on issues of race, gender, class, sexuality, immigration, and imperialism in songs, liner notes, zines, and flyers, as well as on t-shirts, badges, patches, walls, bodies, and buttons. Rather than view these modes of expression as


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discrete, incommensurate, or even politically opposed, we seek the commonalities between these genres, as well as the differences they may produce, as a way to explore the complexity of thought on punk. Indeed, projects such as the POC Zine Project, the Meet Me at the Race Riot events, the Queer Zine Archive, and Alice Bag’s extensive web archive, have served as models and inspiration for many of the folks writing herein. Rather than rely on one story of punk, then, here we interest ourselves in the slipperiness of punk’s meanings. Like Zack Furness, we attempt to think around the genealogy of punk writing that ‘‘reduce[s] ‘punk’ into a static, singular thing that can be mapped along an axis of success vs. failure, resistance vs. recuperation, authenticity vs. inauthenticity, and so on.’’7 Instead, we offer a variety of writings, images, and sounds that may not always concur with one another, but do circulate around the common themes of gender, race, nation, resistance, and politics. Further, the inclusion of writers like Alice Bag, Nia King, and Osa Atoe implicates questions about from where and for whom punk knowledge and knowledge about punk is produced. This move engages the debate over the place of women of color in punk and also the sanctity and right of academic thought, even as we mobilize those academic modes (sometimes against themselves, and sometimes for themselves). Again, we do not shy from these contradictions, conflations, and conflicts; rather, we find them productive provocations. One of the threads in this issue is resistance to the rhetoric of resistance, and how time and space act as major factors in the collision of oppositional stances and their (sometimes severe) limitations. As Symphony Spell, one punk observer interviewed in Outside and home: Negra punks (dir. Bader Alketbi and Brittney James), offers: ‘‘What’s the point of being an outsider when the outside community mirrors the actual community with like white-male dominat[ion]?’’8 Engaging then the notion of anteriority as a reordering of time and genealogy, authors Nguyen and Stinson begin to address these concerns about the often unequal distribution of punk’s resistant stances. Questioning the politics of racial inclusion and exclusion in the formation of punk feminisms, both authors move beyond recovering women of color to demonstrate how women of color (and discourses that surround them) have always already been essential to the construction of punk sensibilities. In ‘‘Riot grrrl, race, and revival,’’ Nguyen raises the stakes of riot grrrl historiography by deftly examining the distribution of affective vocabularies within zine exchanges. Questioning the racial politics of riot grrrl’s aesthetics of intimacy and ‘‘girl love,’’ Nguyen uncovers contemporaneous debates to show how racial feelings were mobilized through and against women of color as a means to construct the dubious property of antiracist whiteness, and how the consequences of these politics and aesthetics are in danger of erasure in riot grrrl retrospectives now. Stinson attacks these genealogical issues through the notions of sonic archiving and ‘‘black (w)holes,’’ a trope tracked through readings of Evelyn Hammonds and Dick Hebdige, to theorize both the absence and presence of race and racialized bodies in punk theory and historiography as crucially productive for its politics and performances. Through a new genealogy of afro-punk, Stinson shows that racial and gendered discourses strike at the heart of how punk is constructed, but that their meanings (and punk’s meanings) are ultimately always deferred, left incomplete.


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These two articles posit race not as an absence or as a limit to resistance, but as appearing at the heart of punk’s formations. Addressing ‘‘anteriors’’ in the material and spatial sense of the term raises further questions about the construction of resistant subjectivities. The contexts of the multiracial metropolis and its material conditions affect the expression of punk politics. Ngoˆ explores these methodological possibilities in ‘‘Punk in the shadow of war,’’ following the formation of punk space, rhetoric, and violence within the context of U.S. wars abroad. Demonstrating a connection between military defense manufacturing, the arrival of Southeast Asian refugees, and a growing Latino immigrant population, Ngoˆ resituates punk’s discourses of race, sexuality, gender, and poverty within empire’s intimate reach through an examination of musical scene-makers X and Jeffrey Lee Pierce, the decrepit confines of the punk-infested Canterbury apartment complex, and the ‘‘Chinatown Punk Wars.’’ Similarly, Wadkins interrogates links between the constitution of white and black masculinities within Detroit’s nascent punk scene consisting of such acts as Death, Iggy Pop, and the MC5. Convincingly linking desires for various types of black masculinities (by both black and white performers) with the allure of the Black Power movement, Wadkins brings to light the interplay between race-based social justice movements and the politics of punk. Together, these four articles work to delineate both the appeal of punk and how that appeal is written through complex and sometimes contradictory mobilizations and performances of race and gender within punk scenes. Between these four articles, we include two short memoirs and an interview to antagonize academic forms with punk knowledges. This antagonism often accretes in the heart of punk considerations and expressions of politics, particularly in the music, writing, and various media of punk performance. One of punk’s earliest and fiercest female voices, Alice Bag, in ‘‘Work that hoe: Tilling the soil of punk feminism,’’ draws together a Chicana upbringing and politics with performance and speaks directly to a new generation of punk contenders. Nia King contributes ‘‘The first 7-inch was better: How I became an ex-punk,’’ lifted from one of her influential zines, which teases out the many political contradictions King experienced first-hand as a woman of color in punk scenes. Questions concerning marginalizing experiences, and responses to them, carry over into the interview with Osa Atoe conducted by Stinson, where feminist musician and zinester Atoe expresses her desire to stop ‘‘arguing with or criticizing white people,’’ and, instead, focus on the thoughts and artistic output of punks of color. All three contributions constitute primary sources in our study here, but also exemplify a temporal and spatial spectrum of women of color and their zines and performances that build for us new perceptions and genealogies of punk, performance, and feminism. Together their contributions simultaneously comprise an anterior archive of punk and new creative and intellectual framings about punk politics and aesthetics. As a fairly new section in the journal, ‘‘&’’ provides a place in every issue for short pieces on recent events and current topics, artist statements, and performance documentation, as well as works that generally lie outside the issue proper. However, Stinson and Lydia Brawner, who edited the ‘‘&’’ section for this issue, have joined


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our entries with the rest of the issue to better emphasize the productive relationship between the articles, interviews, and artists. These entries reflect back on and conduct a dialogue with the main section of the issue, but they also act as springboards into other punk spaces of discord and ardor. Jasmine Mahmoud’s ‘‘Black love? Black love!: All aboard the presence of punk in Seattle’s NighTraiN’’ pays tribute to a playful punk show the author caught at the end of 2010, and investigates the songs, environment, and performance of the all-female, all-black band NighTraiN. Performer Gigi McGraw’s prose imagines three fictive punk characters and activates them with the uncharted strands of contribution by the black punk female in ‘‘Sodom’s daughters: The removed and forgotten black female of punk culture.’’ Artist, activist, and archivist Lisa Darms describes her work with the newly emerging archive at Fales Library – ‘‘The riot grrrl collection’’ – and proposes the reasons why a feminist archive necessitates a reevaluation of the relationship between institutions, artists, and activists. The last entry in the ‘‘&’’ section consists of what Brawner calls ‘‘Soundtracks,’’ to give contributors an opportunity to explain in an auditory way how they would approach the ‘‘punk anteriors’’ concept. The curated result shows off the multiplicity possible in that sonic design, and becomes a guide for listening, furnishing background music with liner notes, for the issue as a whole. Mariam Bastani, musician and coordinator at Maximum rocknroll, starts us off with an international mix entitled ‘‘We are destroyers of the status quo.’’ Next, artist Iraya Robles, a.k.a. Aloofah of queercore band Sta-Prest fame, takes us up and down the time continuum of music in the vast punk universe with ‘‘Remotely female.’’ Musician and senior editor at New Museum’s new media website ‘‘Rhizome,’’ Ceci Moss, follows with a riot grrrl-influenced list that explores an alternate kind of power angle with ‘‘I hate history.’’ Purposefully eschewing riot grrrl, writer and scholar Mimi Thi Nguyen locates the threads of other histories and chronologically pulls them into the present in ‘‘Making waves: Other punk feminisms.’’ To conclude the section, musician, activist, and writer Kate Wadkins’s soundtrack, ‘‘making sure the Freaky Ladies get represented,’’ presents a medley of tunes leaving the reader with assurance and satisfaction that the punk life can move across race, time, and gender, if we imagine otherwise. While this issue makes a strong contribution in re-framing work on race in punk by using women of color, postcolonial, and transnational feminisms, we acknowledge, too, that there is much more work to be done on punk, and that the four brief articles and other writings in this issue cannot begin to cover our necessary inquiry. The essays in this issue, for instance, take into account transnational frameworks, but our subjects remain firmly based within the U.S. and British contexts. As Golnar Nikpour presciently argues in Maximum rocknroll, writing on punk often excises the essential globality of punk scenes, not to mention the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll as a transnational form long before the advent of punk. This insistence that punk travels from ‘‘the West’’ to ‘‘the rest’’ – a typical imperial trope here espoused by selfproclaimed anti-racists – ironically mirrors and reproduces racist assumptions that ‘‘the rest’’ of the world is living in a belated present, and that their today is not coterminous


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with ‘‘ours’’ but rather with an era that for ‘‘us.’’ – and there is no mistaking who ‘‘we’’ are in this argument – is fully in the rear-view mirror.’’9

We hope that future writings will take up this important challenge as well as build on our work of interrogating the interplay of race, imperialism, feminism, and social movements in the construction of resistant subjectivities. Putting together this issue has been a genuine pleasure because of all the collaboration involved in the process. It has been fun and productive for us to kick against the academic emphasis on individualism (albeit in our small and fleeting way) by writing and thinking with one another, and in sharing drafts, ideas, and a sense of purpose. Along with our hope of re-centering people of color in punk’s narratives, part of our goal with this issue has been to expand the places where we find valuable knowledge, to re-imagine who counts as an intellectual producer, and to work across genres. Though the process was not always perfect, we have found this methodological track productive and insightful, and hope that this model might inspire others to explore these topics and others in similar and even more brilliant ways.

Acknowledgements The editors would like to thank all the contributors to this issue. It has truly been a pleasure and an honor to work with all of you in as collaborative a fashion as this process could allow. We would also like to thank Lydia Brawner and the editorial board and staff at Women & Performance for their intellectual generosity and their patience with our process; and Janice Radway, Christina Hanhardt, Joshua Javier Guzma´n, and all the anonymous reviewers for taking the time to make all of the entries here clearer and smarter. Your hard work is much appreciated.

Notes on contributors Fiona I.B. Ngoˆ is Assistant Professor, Department of Asian American Studies and Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Elizabeth A. Stinson is a Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Performance Studies, New York University.

Notes 1. Nyong’o (2008, 107). 2. MacLeod (2010, 131). 3. Our work here is inspired by other authors who have also mobilized the term ‘‘anteriors’’ including Derrida (1974, 144–52); Bhabha (1994, 221, 235–41, 313–19); Cornell 1995 (145–56); Deutsche (1998; 2006, 26–37). 4. Furness (2012, 17). 5. This growing body of work includes Furness (2012), Duncombe and Tremblay (2011), Tavia Nyong’o (2005, 2008, 2010); Brown (2008, 2011); Habell-Palla´n (2005, 2012). 6. Hebdige (1979); Gilroy (1991); Traber (2001); Sabin (1999). 7. Furness (2012, 18). 8. Symphony Spell quoted in Alketbi and James (2012). 9. Nikpour (2012).


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References Alketbi, Bader, and Brittney James, Dirs. 2012. ‘‘Outside and Home: Negra Punks.’’ 5 May. Bhabha, Homi K. 1994. The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge. Brown, Jayna. 2008. ‘‘Go Wild! Annabella Lwin, Multicultural London, and the Post-punk Era.’’ Paper presented at the American Studies Association Annual Conference, October 12. ———. 2011. ‘‘Brown Girl in the Ring: Poly Styrene, Annabella Lwin, and the Politics of Anger.’’ Journal of Popular Music Studies 23(4): 455–478. Cornell, Drucilla. 1995. Rethinking the Time of Feminism. In Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Exchange, edited by Seyla Benhabib, Judith Butler, Drucilla Cornell and Nancy Fraser, 145–156. New York: Routledge. Derrida, Jacques. 1974. Of Grammatology. Translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. Deutsche, Rosalyn. 1998. Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. ———. 2006. ‘‘Not-forgetting: Mary Kelly’s Love songs.’’ Grey Room 24(Summer): 26–37. Duncombe, Stephen J., and Maxwell Tremblay, eds. 2011. White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of Race. London: Verso. Furness, Zack. 2012. Punkademics: The Basement Show in the Ivory Tower. Brooklyn, NY: Minor Compositions. Gilroy, Paul. 1991. There Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Habell-Palla´n, Michelle. 2005. Loca Motion: The Travels of Chicana and Latina Popular Culture. New York: New York University Press. ———. 2012. ‘‘Death to Racism and Punk Revisionism’’: Alice Bag’s Vexing Voice and the Unspeakable Influence of Cancio´n Ranchera on Hollywood Punk. In Pop: When the World Falls Apart, edited by Eric Weisbard, 247–270. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Hebdige, Dick. 1979. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. New York: Routledge. MacLeod, Dewar. 2010. Kids of the Black Hole: Punk Rock in Postsuburban California. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. Nikpour, Golnar. 2012. ‘‘White Riot: Another failure . . .’’ Maximum rocknroll, 17 January. Accessed 25 June 2012. http://maximumrocknroll.com/white-riot-another-failure Nyong’o, Tavia. 2005. ‘‘Punk’d Theory.’’ Social Text 23(3–4): 19–34, (Fall/Winter). ———. 2008. ‘‘Do You Want Queer Theory (or do You Want the Truth)? Intersections of Punk and Queer in the (1970s).’’ Radical History Review 100(Winter): 102–119. ———. 2010. ‘‘Brown punk.’’ TDR: The Drama Review 54(3): 71–86, (Fall). Sabin, Roger. 1999. ‘‘I Won’t Let that Dago by’’: Rethinking Punk and Racism. In Punk Rock: So What?: The Cultural Legacy of Punk, edited by Roger Sabin, 199–218. New York: Routledge. Traber, Daniel S. 2001. ‘‘L.A.’s White Minority: Punk and the Contradictions of Selfmarginalization.’’ Cultural Critique 48(2001): 30–64.


Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory Vol. 22, Nos. 2–3, July–November 2012, 173–196

Riot Grrrl, Race, and Revival1 Mimi Thi Nguyen*

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Departments of Gender and Women’s Studies and Asian American Studies, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA This essay ventures a critique of the existing historiography of riot grrrl and how the movement is narrated both ‘‘then’’ and ‘‘now’’ to contain and subsume the disruptions of race. The first counter-story commences with and departs from that scene of intimacy that is the semi-secret heart of riot grrrl’s resonance, an aesthetics of access – to the means of production and creative labor, but also to more ephemeral properties of expertise and selfknowledge – through which the personal and the political are collapsed. The author argues that the resistive properties of intimacy might also replicate its intrusive ones, and conceive of change narrowly as the adjustment of the individual subject – recalibrating her capacity for love or shame, for instance – to the structural determinations that constitute the historical present. In doing so, the author shows how race confounded such intimacy in order to demarcate the boundaries of riot grrrl aesthetics as both form and critique. In a second counter-story, with riot grrrl now becoming the subject of so much retrospection, the author argues that how the critiques of women of color are narrated is important to how we remember feminisms and how we produce feminist futures. Here the author locates riot grrrl within a broader critique of the historiography of feminist movement, to question then the progressive teleologies of origin, episode, and succession that would limit the internal disturbances within feminisms to its critics, or to the past. Discussions about the contours and contents of these historiographical impulses are always political ones, insofar as they establish what forces should be considered memorable, and what crises be deemed responsible for unsettling feminist movements. These discussions are happening now, and will continue no doubt into the future, and the author offers this interruption as an alternate genealogy through which we might pursue a politics as ‘‘destroyers of the status quo.’’ Keywords: riot grrrl; race; zines; feminism; genealogy; punk; affect

In 1991, the shooting death of a Salvadorian man by a rookie police officer sparked two days of rioting by black and Latino youth in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood in Washington D.C. One of the more infamous origin stories for riot grrrl lies peripheral (or perhaps parallel) with these race riots, recounting how musician Jean Smith was inspired to write to Bratmobile band member Allison Wolfe, ‘‘We need to start a girl riot.’’ There are of course other beginnings, but we know for certain what followed: riot grrrl press-ganged punk and its discordant, splintered noise into an *Email: mimin@illinois.edu ISSN 0740–770X print/ISSN 1748–5819 online ! 2012 Women & Performance Project Inc. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2012.721082 http://www.tandfonline.com


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uneasy fit with pop and melodic froth, ungrounding noise and froth from either negative delirium or cheerful myopia, and channeling both toward a dream of feminist futures. Not that punk had never seen feminisms before. An insurgent and often incoherent set of scenes emerging in the 1970s, and in the aftermath of multiple, devastating anti-imperial wars as well as a global economic restructuring, punk manifested all the contradictions of a modernist avant-garde movement – unsentimental and romantic, revolutionary and reactionary, a draw for queers and freaks and the worship of tortured white male genius.2 From this incipient hue and cry, a roster of women artists seized punk by the throat, including Los Angeles’ Alicia Armendariz and Pat Morrison of The Bags and Teresa Covarrubias of The Brat, England’s Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex and Eve Libertine and Joy de Vivre of CRASS, San Francisco’s Penelope Houston of The Avengers, Pearl E. Gates from Pearl Harbor and the Explosions, and Jennifer Miro of The Nuns, and still more others. These women in each their own way refused to believe that the avant-garde, the revolution, and the work of art that challenged but also channeled both were only masculine provinces. But riot grrrl also carried the difference that two decades of feminisms made – whether confronting violence and misogyny in punk as disparate but connected cultural forms, in song or scene; or denouncing ‘‘instant macho gun revolution’’ as the failure of punk’s realpolitik impulse (where it had one at all) in recognizing only statism and capitalism as conduits of power. As the 1991 Riot Grrrl Manifesto argued, ‘‘Riot grrrl is . . . BECAUSE viewing our work as being connected to our girlfriends-politics-real lives is essential if we are gonna figure out how what we are doing impacts, reflects, perpetuates, or DISRUPTS the status quo.’’3 It may be that we more or less know this history by now, but how we relate it matters still.4 This essay ventures a critique of the existing historiography of riot grrrl and how the movement is narrated both ‘‘then’’ and ‘‘now’’ to contain and subsume the comparisons and provocations that lie with the origin story that begins with race riots and ends with (we could say) another. (Because the Mount Pleasant riots erupted around immigration, race, and police brutality, what does imagining a girl riot entail – especially where these concerns did not often surface?) The first counterstory I want to tell commences with and departs from that scene of intimacy that is the semi-secret heart of riot grrrl’s resonance, an aesthetics of access – to the means of production and creative labor, but also to more ephemeral properties of expertise and self-knowledge – through which the personal and the political are collapsed into a world of public intimacy. This is not necessarily a bad story, or a wrong story. However, the resistive properties of intimacy might also replicate its intrusive ones, and conceive of change narrowly as the adjustment of the individual subject – recalibrating her capacity for love or shame, for instance – to the structural determinations that constitute the historical present. This essay follows from this observation to show how race confounded such intimacy in order to demarcate the boundaries of riot grrrl aesthetics as both form and critique. In other words, whereas the insistence on intimacy may indeed be a revolutionary charge within the circumstances from which riot grrrl emanates (including girl jealousy or subcultural cool), such an insistence, when viewed in light of histories of desire for access and


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attachment to racial, colonial others, may turn out to be the reiteration of those histories in new idioms. In the second counter-story, with riot grrrl now becoming the subject of so much retrospection, I argue that how the critiques of women of color are narrated is important to how we remember feminisms and how we produce feminist futures. If riot grrrl fell apart because of a race riot, how is this to be remembered – as catastrophic melee, as course correction, as brief interruption? And how then are we to face the future – with certain progress having been achieved, or with violence (including erasure, deferral, or annexation) not having ended? Here I locate riot grrrl within a broader critique of the historiography of feminist movement, to question then the progressive teleologies of origin, episode, and succession that would limit the internal disturbances within feminisms to its critics, or to the past. Discussions about the contours and contents of these historiographical impulses are always political ones, insofar as they establish what forces should be considered memorable, and what crises be deemed responsible for unsettling feminist movements. These discussions are happening now, and will continue no doubt into the future; I offer this interruption as an alternate genealogy through which we might pursue a politics as ‘‘destroyers of the status quo.’’5

PART I. Hey, white girl! Hey, white girl. Why don’t you break my heart one more time? – Elizabeth McAdams, Hey, White Girl 6

In the most familiar histories told about riot grrrl (in academic study, and in popular or underground accounts), a new strain of punk feminism, weary of both the soul-crushing criterion of commodity culture and the masculine bravado of punk subculture distancing girls from knowing themselves and one another, posed the solution through the promise of do-it-yourself – that is, make music, make art, make the world, make yourself. Girls pushed their way to the front and onto the stage with guitars in hand; girls sent concealed dollar bills in exchange for each other’s passionate manifestos passing as cut-and-pasted zines; girls traded mixed tapes of favorite bands, and each song, and every page, was a revelation. Doing it yourself made it possible to know yourself as a revolutionary act; or as the third issue of Riot Grrrl put it, ‘‘tired of being written out – out of history, out of the ‘scene,’ out of our bodies . . . for this reason we have created our zine and scene.’’7 In the world-image riot grrrl conjured forth, the feminist movement argument that the personal is political again became a revolutionary form. (Punk also propagated the modernist consciousness that self-actualization must be found in something other than dominant cultures or other coercion, against those external forces imagined to separate and distort true selves; riot grrrl followed this prescription closely.) Through the radical reinterpretation of individual experiences as social phenomena with histories and political consequences, and the subsequent rejection of these structural determinations, an individual might become a radical object of knowledge, a sovereign subject who tells the (albeit ever-changing) truth


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about herself in order to know herself and to be known by others. Riot grrrl of course engaged rage, contempt, scorn, revulsion, satire, derision, mockery, irony, and other so-called negative emotional forms and rhetorical practices familiar to feminist and punk politic and art making; these shaped eloquent and often haunting responses to the violences of patriarchal and punk forms and practices. Simultaneously and seemingly of necessity, however, riot grrrl also pursued a radical politics of intimacy or girl love – and indeed, in academic studies of the movement, this is perhaps the most remarked-upon feature of its feminism. Through girl love (girls learning to love themselves, and each other, against those forces that would otherwise see them destroyed or destroy themselves), riot grrrl engendered an aesthetics of self-referentiality and transformation as a means of producing an experimental feminist bloc. As the slogan went, ‘‘every girl is a riot grrrl’’ unties a knot of promises that bound self-actualization to communion with others. In this way, girl love was at once radical – and yet not quite. In The Empire of Love, Elizabeth Povinelli brilliantly theorizes such intimacy as a liberalist fantasy of self-actualization and abstraction into a compassionate collectivity. In such a fantasy, ‘‘subjects in the liberal diaspora constantly urge one another to be open to the possibility that in recognizing each other in intimate love they will experience each other as different than they were before – they will experience a break, a rupture from their prior selves and experience a purer, truer form of self, a form they have always truly been. We literally reform the social by believing in and demanding this form of love.’’8 Thus did an aesthetics of depth and true feeling (though not of necessity distinct from a stance of parody and critique of the same, as we shall see) presume to grant access to other girls and their secret hearts made audible, made visible. As the cover of the second issue of photobooth toolbox announced: ‘‘this is my life, this is my scream, this is my anger, this is my pain, this is my strength, this is my growth, this is my spirit, this is my voice, this is my heart, this is my song.’’9 Some features of this intimate aesthetic are already well observed, so I simply rehearse their contours here. Self-styled clearinghouses such as Riot Grrrl Press and Pander Distro, zines like Maximumrocknroll and Factsheet Five, and also newsletters Riot Grrrl Review and Action Girl Review, performed the function and provided the form for erecting a collectivity of geographically distant persons on a foundation of seven-inches, zines, and mixed tapes. Through zines especially, combining Xerox collage, desktop publishing, and other photo-techniques, and refusing a property relation to information and art (and in doing so referencing earlier generations of artists including Hannah Ho¨ch, Barbara Kruger, and Cindy Sherman, as well as punk’s improprieties), their appeal lay with their handmade nature, the feeling that someone somewhere used scissors and glue and their mother’s old typewriter to make this thing, a labor of love, with equal emphasis on both the durational nature of such industry and the imminent promise of intimacy.10 As Cindy Crab told Alison Piepmeier in Girl Zines about her third issue of Doris, she hoped to furnish a gift of herself to a reader she might never meet otherwise: ‘‘I had this thing that was like, I’m going to touch every single page. I only printed 200 of that one, but I had different things glued or taped or drawn onto every page of the zine.’’11


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As well we also know that the scale of the form also bled through into the prose and premise of this genre. Tackling erotic knowledge and sexual abuse, compulsory heterosexuality and girl-girl intimacy, domestic abuse and domesticity, young women called attention to how such encounters, feelings, and memories that appear to be personal and self-referential, are also ideological and social. Zines such as Chica Loca, I Heart Amy Carter, Subject to Change, and Jigsaw rewrote presumed relations to popular cultures in order to produce intricately mapped forms of desire, against a highly feminized ascription of passive consumption but also the implicitly masculinist punk-rock pose of proper rejection.12 Thus did these feminisms bring Calvin Klein lesbian model Jenny Shimizu, presidential daughter Amy Carter, fictional skeptic Dana Scully, and avant-garde artist Yoko Ono into dialogues about cultural production and consumption, about schemas of gender and sexuality, about identification with or against pop-culture figures, but always in relation to them, and the convergence of pleasure and power. Here, even the crush, that form of love degraded as adolescent feminine fantasy, becomes something more in this imaginary – a critique of the social bounds of the possible, as well as an optimism about what lies beyond the moment, a shared dreaming of a feminist futurity. Of course, an aesthetics of intimacy did not necessarily promise transparency. Zines often enacted a sly awareness of mediation, simultaneously refused and also acknowledged in some of the generic conventions of this intimate culture – the diary entry or the epistolary letter, addressed to historical or fictional figures, to strangers and to family members, to friends or rapists or roommates or others in the scene. Nomy Lamm, for instance, related to Piepmeier: ‘‘I really hated when people would be like, ‘Oh, it’s all just girls in their bedrooms, sprawled out writing in their diaries, and then they’ll send them to each other.’ I’m like, that’s an aesthetic choice. You’re still constructing something when it looks like a diary entry. I wasn’t photocopying my diary, or if I was, it was for a specific reason.’’ At the same time, she asserted: ‘‘I’m creating this kind of media that’s literally from my most sacred place to somebody else’s most sacred place.’’13 These endeavors opted for a public process for fashioning an authentic self (though a process, to recall Stuart Hall, ‘‘always constituted within, not outside, representation’’).14 Furthermore, such a quest for intimate self-knowledge is pursued in stated opposition to structural determinations that are perceived as alienating and otherwise damaging – such as capitalism, misogyny, fat oppression – and such that the strategic excavation of the true self also becomes an ethical foundation for communion. Expressing then a wish for an authentic form of knowledge free from error and illusion, intimacy is a sentimental politics as well as an aesthetics. Thus did Basil in Spiral Upwards locate the self as the central scene for social change: ‘‘i’ve got this idea for a revolution that only includes you if you want to be included. it’s more of a personal revolution. one that waits for you to catch up and doesn’t start without you. all because it makes you the revolution.’’15 Such a revolution through the everyday work on the conscious self, especially through therapeutic techniques of self-examination, confession, and dialogue, is not apart from a larger cultural landscape in the late twentieth century.16 These aesthetic forms, emerging during the 1990s to now, register how neoliberalism and its emphases on the entrepreneurial subject shapes even


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progressive or feminist adjustments to the structural determinations that constitute the historical present, engendering an emotional style, and a rhetorical practice, that sometimes glossed intimacy for reciprocity, experience for expertise, and misrecognized how forces work through these idioms. That is, where such encounters between sacred places might cultivate the soul of the subject toward a capacity to recognize in others love and other virtue and to herself embody the same, such personal revolution most often occurred outside of structural critique. And though these intimate cultures sought to build a company of persons whose hopes for authentic self-knowledge and communion somehow become the foundation of a more just world, the absence of justice was too narrowly understood as a problem of ignorance, and distance. This is not to say that intimacy went unquestioned. Where intimacy provided the dominant rhetoric and form, so a discussion of the violence of intimacy followed. Riot grrrl especially pursued intimacy as a premise for revisiting the home, the family, and the body, as vectors of power and sites for the normalization of violence. Two of riot grrrl’s most powerful anthems, Huggy Bear’s blunt, buzzing ‘‘Her Jazz’’ and Bikini Kill’s saccharine-turned-soul-rending ‘‘Suck My Left One,’’ targeted false promises to love and protect. (From ‘‘Her Jazz,’’ for instance: ‘‘When you say it say it is us two too/true you taught me how to shoot/and best pull up my skirt/and put up with hurt/boy/girl revolutionaries you lied to me!’’) In zines like Writing for Beginning, Zanna and Ingrid deconstructed heterosexual coupling as the penultimate form of love, noting and critiquing, ‘‘i equate love with dependency, i equate love with obsession, i equate love with being joined at the hip,’’17 while in Rock Candy, Marie criticized her parents’ unwillingness to accept their daughter’s rape.18 It cannot be understated that these critiques were incredible, powerful indictments. In these contexts, love was something to be wary of. At the same time, a more revolutionary love proposed to be the glue that held us together. This desire for intimacy as a political end, and the location of the self as the source of authentic knowledge, proved for some (like myself) to be too close for comfort. Riot grrrl reimagined a punk aesthetics of access to the means of intellectual and creative labor that sought to extend true love and intimate selfknowledge to all girls, all persons, on the convention, and the condition, that they embrace the terms of exposure. As Trish Kelly wrote in Make-out Club: ‘‘This is our chance to start our girl-boy revolution . . . We are willing to try, TRY to be better and face our shortcomings. And support each other. We try to be better. We are growing together. PROMISE. CHANGE. GROWTH . . . We are the revolution, a revolution of feeling real, thinking, and support.’’19 It is as such that the confessional performance especially in zines became a crucial part of an intimate culture given to personal revolution, through which participants exposed themselves as flawed, processual beings, often through personal inventories of attitudinal minutiae (‘‘I haven’t written enough about my skinny privilege’’) – or, in the name of intimate love, allowed themselves to be publicly critiqued for their entitlements. Public shame, whether pursued through rigorous self-critique or delivered through the letters of an interlocutor, served as evidence of accountability. Indeed, these intimate conventions defined some of the more circulated zines, and still


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others modeled themselves on this form. (There is yet another story here in what one person described as, ‘‘Years of ‘HEY, I’M CALLING YOU ON YOUR SHIT!’ letters.’’20) This aesthetic convention however fostered a troubling politics, especially as an informal imperative that exacted a price, and even as a possessive investment that returned a surplus of value – in this case, as other forms of cultural capital. Kristy Chan observed in Tennis & Violins that ‘‘oppression’’ functions as a ‘‘punk rock commodity,’’ whose possession enhances an authentic marginality, translating experience into expertise.21 In the thirteenth (and last) issue of Alien, Whitney excoriated this culture of confession for its ephemeral economy of value and cultural capital: ‘‘The perpetuation of craziness is disguised in art, if I were to tell you I was CURED (gasp!) you wouldn’t read on . . . fuck you if i were to say i cut myself & my daddy hit me to smithereens you’d ask me when is the next issue coming out. You are reading and I am writing THE COMMODITY OF CRAZINESS in punk.’’22 This subculture of intimacy and self-referentiality borrowed its structure for transformation from consciousness-raising, and the notion that the deeply oppressed had radical knowledge stemming from their specific social positions. That is, from inside the oppressed classes themselves come political knowledges based on experience, which might then be translated into expertise. But the turn to selfreferentiality as an escape from falsehood, as the capacity to retrieve instead reality, had some obvious limits. For instance, women of color wondered out loud for whom writing ‘‘SLUT’’ across their stomachs operated as reclamations of sexual agency against feminine passivity, where racisms had already inscribed such terms onto some bodies, and poor or criminal-class women argued that feminists ‘‘slumming’’ in the sex industry (through stripping, for the most part) as a confrontational act implied that other women in this or other tiers of the industry were otherwise conceding to patriarchy. Or, as Mary Celeste Kearney observes: ‘‘the gender deviance displayed by riot grrrls is a privilege to which only middle-class white girls have access.’’23 But there were other, less-remarked consequences, including generalizations about the concrete knowledge drawn from experience as more valuable and subversive than the so-called abstract, alienating labor of theoretical inquiry. However moving, it often appeared to me that the reification of structural determinations in the unreliable minutiae of personal experience about girlhood, or class convention, often failed to confront the conditions that enabled such assumptions to stand in the first place. The raising of consciousness did not aim to end structural determinations, and instead ossified its categories of class or gender as an absolute reality to predict social expression (such as the commonplace claim that working-classness manifested loud, straightforward, and therefore truer speech). But how then could experience yield revolutionary knowledge about race, where the dominant experience was whiteness? It is as such that race as a reminder of hard histories – within feminisms too – operated as an obstacle to hoped-for collectivity, knocking the promise of girl love and punk rock revolution askew. In her report for radical feminist newspaper off your backs from the first riot grrrl convention, held in Washington DC in 1992, Melissa Klein recounts the racism workshop (run by an older, African American woman from outside riot grrrl, she notes) as troubled by the young white women’s


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clear discomfiture with the prospect of their complicity. In her history of riot grrrl called Girls to the Front, Sara Marcus describes the scene in retrospect: This conversation called for a serious switching of gears. The girls had just spent the morning talking about and connecting based on the shared ways they were disadvantaged and put down. Now the white girls –which meant a majority of the people there – were being told that they were oppressors as well.24

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The antiracism workshop at the 1997 Bay Area Girls Convention was similarly disturbing, but the reverberations echoed also throughout the event. As detailed in Bianca Ortiz’s Mamasita, the Mexican girls found themselves in the kitchen cooking for the other participants during the vegan workshop: They were busy with the revolution while we fried tortillas until the grease from the pans stuck to the grease on our faces, while our backs stiffened up and the hours passed, while we were so confused and disturbed with what was happening that the only thing we could do was laugh and try not to think about it.25

Celia Perez in an issue of I Dreamed I was Assertive recounts a conflict on a zinesters’ messageboard online, during which some young women sought to recuperate ‘‘white pride’’ apart from racial supremacy.26 Is it any wonder, then, that Lauren Jade Martin wrote in You Might As Well Live: and yeah some of you say we are ‘‘out to kill white boy mentality’’ but have you examined your own mentality? your white upper-middle class girl mentality? what would you say if i said that i wanted to kill that mentality too? would you say: ‘‘what about sisterhood?!’’27

One response to this distance, keyed to the culture of intimacy cultivated thus far, was expressed as the desire to know race better. But this desire to know race, to know it intimately especially as an experience as that which yielded expertise, presented a series of problems about the violence of desires to be close to the other, as histories of colonialism and imperialism (and feminisms’ function in many of these ventures) amply demonstrate.28 This desire ignores the multivalent character of intimacy – race, as colonial studies scholar Ann Laura Stoler notes, is as integral to the education of desire as it is to disgust.29 Therefore, establishing the intimate as a preferred and privileged mode might mirror the forms of surveillance that required some persons –persons of color, for instance – to reveal themselves, to bear the burden of representation (‘‘you are here as an example’’) and the weight of pedagogy (‘‘teach us about your people’’). As such, the demand for proximity and intimacy is unequally distributed, burdening some in perturbing ways. For example, in the zine Mamasita, Bianca Ortiz criticized the violence of intimacy as a salve to racism, citing her feeling of time and emotional labor wasted writing personal letters to ‘‘one million white girls,’’ especially where women of color critics (such as herself) are relegated to the role of educator, which required their interventions to remain at the level of the ‘‘personal,’’ a framework that seemed to replicate the toothless multiculturalism of dominant cultures; or in their critiques be labeled the enemy for violating the comfort of others. ‘‘I am sick of being the example, the teacher, the scapegoat, the leader, the half Mexican girl in the group of ‘allies’ who either attempt to praise me or destroy me, or both at once.’’30 This oft-cited piece became a


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standard within riot grrrl as a critical response to an aesthetics and a politics that posited intimacy – its performance, the desire for it – as the pathway to social bonds and from there, racial justice. As such, we can observe that such desire for a relation to the object who is the racial, colonial other passes through infrastructures of intimacy that are historical, political. Because, as women of color feminisms, ‘‘Third World’’ and postcolonial feminisms argued, the desire for intimacy with the other congeals rather than disorganizes the person who does the desiring, replicates rather than disrupts the forms and facts of power, the style in which riot grrrl imagined collectivity points to the necessity that we look not just to the scars that riot grrrl lay bare, but also to the wounds that riot grrrl made. Riot grrrl drew from liberal formulas that define racism as ignorance, and ignorance as the absence of intimacy; in the words of a zine I admittedly have long discarded, ‘‘racism is a lack of love.’’ (We also know this in the familiar disavowal, ‘‘I’m not racist, I have black friends,’’ which suggests that proximity is a social prophylactic against virulent racism.) In the name of a transformative love, white girls (and some boys) confessed to failures of social bonds – admitting a lack of nonwhite friends was popular – and proposed solutions through which racism might be overcome through experiences that would then yield intimate knowledge of the other. The presumption is that intimacy is a pathway to a good relationship is the passage to social justice, or as Lauren Berlant observes of its limits, ‘‘sentimentality’s universalist rhetoric gains its authority not in the political domain, but near it, against it, and above it: sentimental culture entails a proximate alternative community of individuals sanctified by recognizing the authority of true feeling – authentic, virtuous, compassionate – at the core of a just world.’’31 Thus Slambook, a zine by one of the multiple incarnations of NYC Riot Grrrl, topped its list of ‘‘twenty-two quick ‘n’ easy (not even) things white people can do to fight racism’’ with ‘‘nod and say hello to latina/black/asian/native people as you pass them on the street.’’32 In Fantastic Fanzine, Erika Reinstein wrote: ‘‘i think growing up around people of different cultures, religions, and races has helped demystify the whole issue of racism in my mind. plus my cultural experiences growing up were not typically ‘white,’ especially compared to my more middle class friends.’’33 In Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars, Tony took note: ‘‘Erika told me that if I want to understand and work on my racism, classism, sexism . . . that I need to actively pursue intimate relationships with less privileged people and prove I can be a real ally to them.’’34 There are multiple concerns here. First, what does it mean to disseminate such confessions as part of an aesthetics of access to the individual, the interior? If we are conscious that an aesthetics of intimacy is not the same as transparency (though as I earlier observed it sometimes makes claims to it), what then is the relation between the performative confession of bad feelings and a desire to be good? Sara Ahmed suggests that such confessions might allow guilt to be displaced with the certainty that feeling bad actually means being good (or at least appearing to be good before others). In her critique of Australian ‘‘sorry books,’’ compendium of apologia for indigenous genocide, Ahmed usefully observes that: ‘‘Shame isn’t after all just about feeling bad for others, as it is about feeling bad about oneself before others . . . My shame in the face of the exposure of my failure to embody an ideal shows my love,


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and my desire to embody that ideal in the very moment of experiencing its loss as failure.’’35 Following from Ahmed, the pain of others then is not the object of alteration in such professions of desire as, ‘‘I need to actively pursue intimate relationships with less privileged people . . .’’ Instead, the object is the speaker’s sense of being converted through confession into a better person, or as the second half of that statement notes, ‘‘. . . and prove I can be a real ally to them.’’ Thus, it may be that the expression of shame is less about the thing one is ashamed for (the failure to be intimate with racial, colonial others, for instance) than a hope for recognition that others might witness one’s shame as proof of good faith. Second, we also find a formula that supposes the authentic (white) self, especially the self who transgresses social determinations as punk claimed to do, is enhanced through proximity to the racial, colonial other. This might entail an encounter in a material (such as Erika’s disclaimer of ‘‘typical’’ whiteness through childhood experience with the other) or even metaphorical register. In his study of the 1970s Los Angeles punk scene, Daniel Traber notes that the punk narrative of selfactualization through such proximity, especially as part of the disavowal of bourgeois norms, is square in a long, liberalist tradition of fashioning a sovereign individualism through such flirtations. Writing of punk residency in neighborhoods otherwise populated by working poor or people of color, Traber states: ‘‘This is turned into prestige by punks; acquiring rebellious symbolic capital is how the appropriation of Otherness ‘pays,’ and assuming the underclass is there for their emulation becomes the imperial gestures in punk’s self-escape.’’36 As he records, and as Fiona I.B. Ngoˆ in this volume elaborates, punk membership was therefore often understood as the negation or at least the diminishment of whiteness, oftentimes through the misplaced but much abused analogy with nonwhiteness. (Such an analogy – blue hair as equivalent to brown skin – is all too familiar, bearing a troubled history in feminisms and rights-based gay and lesbian discourses.37) In response to another essay claiming such an analogy, published in the now-defunct independent magazine Clamor, musician and author Gordon Edgar penned a letter detailing some of its abuses, writing: ‘‘Let me see if I got this straight . . . two (visibly) white women on a bus give another (visibly) white woman a little shit for dressing punk and all of a sudden the punk woman is John Brown?’’38 Such a desire for intimacy with disenfranchised others whether as experience with, or even near –through geography or analogy – informs a strategy of self-aggrandizing individuation through social transgression. For our purposes, we might usefully reflect upon Rey Chow’s astute observation: ‘‘Our fascination with the native, the oppressed, the savage, and all such figures is therefore a desire to hold onto an unchanging certainty somewhere outside our own ‘fake’ experience. It is a desire for being ‘non-duped,’ which is a not-too-innocent desire to seize control.’’ In which the native, the oppressed, the savage, and all such figures stand in for some more true, more genuine knowledge, the desire for intimacy with this other enacts an unrealized intersubjectivity in which a performance of address can nonetheless take place. The confession of desire then is not about the professed object (the other with whom congress would inoculate the speaker against ignorance), but the animation of the speaker who experiences a break from her prior


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state of ignorance and realizes a truer self, a differently possible self. This is a liberalist fantasy of self-actualization and enlightenment that requires no reciprocity, because to enunciate the hope for intimacy or love may well be enough for the speaker’s sense of her own flourishing. Thus does this loving (and here white) subject instrumentalize his or her social transactions in terms of the rules of an economy, assigning value to intimate experiences with racial, colonial others – collected for the express purpose of gaining value – which ground his or her claims to knowledge as property, as self-possession. Where intimacy with the other faltered, however, the self could still be reconfigured as a source of authentic knowledge about that other – through analogy, for instance, or appropriation. Citing a ‘‘possible Ethiopian ancestor,’’ Fantastic Fanzine’s Erika Reinstein drew upon the ‘‘one drop rule’’ that once legislated race as a zero-sum physical property of blood inheritance to identify herself as a black woman. In such a formula racism as an existential crisis is resolved through individuated recognition of that one drop, which is in fact a profound misrecognition of the structural determinations of race and their historical violences. In this fantasy of intimacy as interiority (or a too-literal melting pot), race is mistaken as a problem of distance that not only can be overcome by destroying its phenotypical or genotypical character, misreading race as a set biological reality rather than a mutable epistemic quality, but also through a series of appropriations of supposedly discrete objects (such as blackness) into an existing interior in such a manner as to become part of this interior’s infinitude.39 (‘‘I am Scottish, German, African, Newfoundlandish, etc.’’) In construing her ‘‘revelation’’ as a passage to an unalienated self, Reinstein also adopted a bizarre application of proximate osmosis, claiming the racial identifications of her intimates for herself: ‘‘Justin and I just got married and we decided to take on each others’ racial identities as part of that commitment to each other.’’ Race in this idiosyncratic formulation was both mobile in its conscious transferability from body to body, if nonetheless fixed as particular and discrete essences seemingly divorced from history. While furthering her own progress toward greater virtue (no other consequence is claimed), this story radically estranges the phenomenology of historical violence, and eliminates the necessity for others to be addressed at all! This fantasy of referential self-enclosure, published as an interview called ‘‘We are family’’ in the collaborative zine Wrecking Ball, was secured through the sharing of race as a property that then enhances a transgressive whiteness through a disturbing investment not just in an experience of intimacy, but also in its ownership. As such, her speech acts – ‘‘I am African,’’ ‘‘we are family,’’ presented to the reader as evidence that something has been overcome – posit the (white) speaker as a revolutionary ideal, through her claims to incorporate others into her self-possession and therefore to love others as herself. In these and countless other examples of how the difference of race both confounded (and was contained by) the prescription of intimacy, it became apparent that girl love could easily, intensely, perform as a feminist mode of control and psychic violence. Such confessional gestures and professed desires for intimacy with the other produce possessive investments in an antiracist whiteness. That is, confession here enacts ownership, naming one’s property (‘‘I am owning my


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whiteness,’’ ‘‘I have friends of color’’) or the desire for it (‘‘I need more friends of color’’) to enhance one’s holdings. Here I borrow the concept of a possessive investment in whiteness from George Lipsitz, who describes it as the accumulation of properties that secure ‘‘the distribution of wealth, prestige, and opportunity,’’ in order to suggest that certain, perhaps less tangible if no less valuable, properties also accrue to complement an antiracist whiteness.40 Thus does bell hooks suggest that guilt is the continuing manufacture, not the collapse of, whiteness.41 The hope to pursue ‘‘intimate relationships with less privileged people,’’ for example, depends upon a logic of accumulation as self-betterment – indeed, even as a public performance of apparent unselving (because the speaker presumes she is made vulnerable in confession, or incorporation of the other) it enacts a possessive investment in one’s own transgressions of boundaries. As Nia King observes in Ungrateful Black/White Girl about this ‘‘unconquerable monster’’: ‘‘You get to give yourself little anti-racist points for every time you don’t flip out or break down crying when someone calls you a racist, whether it’s blatant or sugar-coated. You get [. . .] a little merit badge and to move on the next level. That’s the monster part. If you are the POC [person of color] who is doing the calling out, you are throwing your defenses at the monster and it is just eating them and getting stronger. You can’t win, because ultimately your accusations benefit them.’’42 For just these reasons, through which antiracism becomes both a property in the twofold sense of an accumulation of value and of an immanent quality of the ‘‘good’’ revolutionary, Sara Ahmed warns: ‘‘indeed, antiracism may even provide the conditions for a new discourse of white pride. Here, antiracism becomes a matter of generating a positive white identity, an identity that makes the white subject feel good. The declaration of such an identity sustains the narcissism of whiteness and allows [. . .] white subjects [to] feel good by feeling good about ‘their’ antiracism.’’43 Critiques of this aesthetics of intimacy would thus refuse to allow the violence of such displacement that would center these professed feelings. The refusal of this gesture is the critical recognition that the confessional gesture is not about the ostensible object of desire – the person of color, the mentally ill, the poor – but about the one who speaks that desire. Furthermore, such desired intimacies that appear to reveal a history of committing injury to others, actually controvert the complex personhood of those others. Or, as San Francisco-based multiracial queer band StaPrest sang in their sarcastic 1996 single, ‘‘Let’s Be Friendly with Our Friends,’’ Uh huh I see Mm-hmm oh, I see You, So Aware but my I.D. is your novelty and now I know you’re one of the Good Ones It’s hard 2 B sharing and caring now Please teach me more about me Whitey Alrighty-Titey Whitey? Let’s be friendly be with our friends44

As Traber notes, these notions of transgression reified otherness as unproblematic scenes of authenticity: ‘‘Punk’s crossing of racial and class borders can be read as a


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commodification of the Other that aestheticizes identity for capital in a symbolic economy of signification.’’45 Such fantasies of intimacy functioned as fantasies of knowing, even owning – operations which, as I argued earlier, are not distinct from racial, colonial schema that sought to ‘‘fix’’ in place the assumed properties of the other (even as resistant) and their structural determinations. In Pure Tuna Fish, Rita Fatila lists among her pet peeves the whitening and subsequent reification of a homogenous working-class culture in zines, while in Funeral, Sugar Magnolia Edwards points to the ignored complexities of poverty and criminal classes in the same.46 In doing so, Fatila deconstructed a punk romanticization of an ‘‘authentic’’ way of being in the world – as ‘‘loud,’’ direct, and without illusions of propriety and therefore ideology – that simultaneously mythologized working-class figurations and insulated them from the privileges of whiteness and even citizenship to the Global North. For her part, Edwards consistently critiqued the cooptation of ‘‘criminalclass sex-work culture by the dominant (punk), mainstream (punk, popscene).’’ Here, Edwards refers to punk feminists who pursued stripping as feminist reclamation of the so-called male gaze.47 She astutely observed that the ‘‘passing thru’’ of some punk women into the sex industry detrimentally alters the ‘‘class/ beauty standards’’ (because of lifelong access to healthcare, for instance) that others whose survival depends upon an underground economy must accommodate thereafter. Moreover, such questions of travel, here denoting a privileged mobility and a hunger for access to the so-called margins, are standard tropes for liberal individuation that depend upon the immobility of racial or social others. Or as Gayle Wald writes: ‘‘white subjectivity [is equated] with a social entitlement to experiment with identity.’’48 Thus did Edwards, among others, identify such impulses as colonialist in form and content. ‘‘What Im saying is that rich girls slumming it in the sex industry for arts sake/for glamours sake/for the illusion of street tuff is a joke and a bunch of crap.’’49 However, such critiques of access and intimacy as social goods were often met with accusations of invalidating and more fundamentally violating the principles of girl love and sovereign selfhood. It is as such that the proximity without intimacy of the feminist of color got in the way of love and revolution. In which the refusal to be intimate was perceived as an act of bad faith, to insist upon continued presence was to further disturb the comfort or happiness of loving others. Sianne Ngai, who points out that there is too often ‘‘an underlying assumption that an appropriate. . . response to [. . .] violence exists, and that the burden lies on the racialized subject to produce that appropriate response legibly, unambiguously, and immediately,’’ thus powerfully recalls Bianca Ortiz’s piece, condemning the circumscription of women of color in an ‘‘educator/enemy’’ duality. Audre Lorde described this scenario thusly: ‘‘When women of color speak out of the anger that laces so many of our contacts with white women, we are often told that we are ‘creating a mood of helplessness,’ ‘preventing white women from getting past guilt,’ or ‘standing in the way of trusting communication and action.’’’ We find just such a reaction in the aftermath of the Wrecking Ball interview, perhaps the most controversial incident in this politics of intimacy. Confronting the problematic racial twists of this interview in his zine Kreme Koolers, Keyan Meymand, who lived at the


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time in the same town as its authors, was subsequently subjected to much informal and institutional harassment, including charges of anti-Semitism and violence against women circulated in the social scene – premised on the fact that Erika was a Jewish woman, and thus criticisms of her statements were also attacks upon her ethnicity and gender – and also baseless legal charges of intimidation that nearly led to a trial. Erika’s defenders argued that Keyan ‘‘invalidated’’ her ‘‘opinions about race,’’ that his ‘‘wanting erika to make a public show of her process is about power, and that power is sexist, and classist’’ amounted to an act of epistemic violence – while denying whatever epistemic violence (or ‘‘process’’) she herself strategically performed in public shows, such as claiming intimacy with the African other inside her (through a fiction of blood as experience, or expertise). Such troubling recourse to sovereign selfhood as an authentic source of truth sought to shield this person from necessary critique.50 (It should also be noted that defenders also claimed that Erika had been an ‘‘ally’’ to many people of color, a tactical invocation that demonstrates once again a possessive investment in antiracist whiteness, through which intimacy with the racial other becomes a prophylactic property for the ‘‘good’’ person.) His refusal to accord to her opinions the status of irrefutable argument was perceived as an injury, generating social and psychic negativity and even aggressivity. This is perhaps the most extreme example through which critiques of racism were deemed reprehensible, and otherwise responsible for the failures of riot grrrl to maintain unity. That is to say, after Ahmed, the exposure of violence becomes in this reversal the origin of violence, a reversal that thereby denies structural racism (while also notably hierarchizing gender violence as a more heinous crime).51 Thus are some kinds of violence presumed to be social goods, like love or intimacy, which may have the more terrible outcome of annulling and banishing those who experience violence as violence to an outside of ‘‘community’’ altogether. This is one subterranean story of a particular moment, or movement, which is not widely told about riot grrrl and its resonance.52 It is a story about the violence of girlgirl intimacy, the force of smothering love, the menace of liberal subjecthood. But it is also important to observe that people of color made significant connections outside of these conversations, writing – or singing – about language loss and acquisition, the ghosts of empire, mixed-raced identifications, migration histories (because of war, or the demands of capital), the pitfalls of non-profit organizing, queer of color critique, ‘‘black girl travel stories,’’ and much more. We assembled compilation zines like Race Riot, How to Stage a Coup, and Chinese, Japanese, Indian Chief, made documentaries like Afropunk and Mas Alla de los Gritos (Beyond the Screams), reclaimed the too-often unobserved significance of pioneering women of color including Poly Styrene, Alice Bag, Conflict’s Karen ‘‘Nurse’’ Maeda Allman, and the Go-Go’s Margot Olaverria,53 and otherwise pursued what might be called a multisubculturalism (a coinage I attribute to Sta-Prest), traversing punk, hip hop, and other scenes to trace their entangled genealogies. Such connections can be found in zines including Gunk (Ramdasha Bikceem), Housewife Turned Assassin and Revolution Rising (Dani and Sisi), Framing Historical Theft (Athena Tan), Quantify and You Might As Well Live (Lauren Jade Martin), Hermana, Resist (Noemi Martinez), Paint Me a Revolution, How to Stage a Coup, and Hard as Nails (Helen


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Luu), I Dreamed I was Assertive (Celia Perez), Bamboo Girl (Sabrina Margarita Alcantara-Tan), Nappy Bush (Dionne Herbert), Wild Honey Pie and Tennis & Violins (Kristy Chan), Consider Yourself Kissed and External Text (Yumi Lee), Funeral (Sugar Magnolia Edwards), Slant, Slander, and Race Riot (Mimi Thi Nguyen), and Pure Tuna Fish (Rita Fatila), and later zines in the years following, such as Finger on the Trigger (Adee Roberson), Ungrateful Black/White Girl and ‘‘The First 7-inch was Better:’’ How I Became an Ex-Punk (Nia King), and Shotgun Seamstress (Osa Atoe).54 In these other histories, other archives, race is not an interruption into a singular scene or movement but the practice of another, co-present scene or movement that conversed and collided with the already-known story, but with alternate investments and forms of critique. These other stories of riot grrrl in particular and also punk at large unfolding enact historical and theoretical provocations with which we have yet to reckon, then or now.55 Through such stories we might importantly learn that for all that this historical moment is remembered as bounded – a brief irruption in the early part of that decade before it splintered, or became a more ‘‘mainstream’’ commodity – we continue to live with such things having not ended. There is no end I can tell, for instance, about the incidents detailed above – while the names might have changed (and perhaps some of the persons named above have since changed their minds), these dynamics are with us still – not least because they are so often rooted in the assumed scenes of liberalism, including self-sovereignty as the property and precondition for freedom. This is a history that is yet to be told – not as episode, or interruption, but the shadow that is with us still. Over 10 years afterward, Nia King ends her zine ‘‘The First 7-inch was Better,’’ a meditation on her disillusionment with punk politics, with this familiar observation: Punk was an incredibly important formative influence in my life because it was my first activist community, where my politics grew up. I still like some of the music and see having come up in that scene as an integral part of who I am. But it shouldn’t surprise anybody that I grew out of and grew alienated by the punk scene, then submitted to a punk zine to talk shit about it. In a culture where you prove how down you are by judging others, what could be more punk than biting the hand of your formative heroes?56

PART II. Where’s the riot? In recent years, we have been witness to appeals and attempts to remember, record, and even to revive riot grrrl circulating throughout punk and popular cultures. Recent endeavors include, but are hardly limited to, Kerri Koch’s 2005 documentary Don’t Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl; scholarly treatments including Mary Celeste Kearney’s 2006 Girls Make Media and Allison Piepmeier’s 2009 Girl Zines; Goteblud zine bookstore and gallery proprietor Matt Wobensmith’s 2009 traveling exhibition You Are Her: Riot Grrrl and Underground Female Zines of the 1990s; the 2010 establishment of the Kathleen Hanna Papers at New York University and ‘‘The Message Is In The Music: Hip Hop Feminism, Riot Grrrl, Latina Music, and More’’ conference at Sarah Lawrence College (I presented an earlier version of this piece on


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that conference’s plenary panel); Sara Marcus’s much-lauded Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution; the 2010 compilation zine The International Girl Gang Underground by Kate Wadkins and Stacy Konkiel; and the most recent releases in 2011 of Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour (dir. Kerthy Fix) Grrrl Love and Revolution: Riot Grrrl NYC (dir. Abby Moser), and From the Back of the Room (dir. Amy Oden), focused on women punk musicians (including but not exclusive to riot grrrl), to be followed by the in-production documentary about artist and musician Kathleen Hanna called The Punk Singer (dir. Sini Anderson). The impetus to remember also circulates, proliferates, in more ephemeral ways – online forums and blogs, casual conversations – such that the resonance of riot grrrl, and wishes for its revival or something like it in the seeming absence of an equivalent movement in the present, renders especially pertinent questions of how we remember. These are each important records of a historical moment, or movement, but at the same time certain stories are easier to tell than others. This became clear to me in my ill-fated editorial encounter with a celebrated music critic, as we clashed repeatedly over a piece I was invited to write about riot grrrl for an encyclopedic entry. Through comments that passed between us via our mediating editor, we battled over whether the conclusion of the riot grrrl story should end with a spectacular, world-shattering bang, in which punk subcultures were forever changed (his choice), or with a more ambiguous denouement, in which some things are not yet ended (my choice). And indeed, the fact that I had such an exchange is itself evidence that some things are not yet ended; as recent remembrances show, the deferral of race in the making (and not just the unmaking) of riot grrrl continues. Sta-Prest musician and artist Iraya Robles, interviewed with Akiko Carver for Girls to the Front, observes that women of color are often called upon to respond to, and to otherwise enhance, privileged feminisms rather than recall what they themselves built. ‘‘In Sara Marcus’ Girls to the Front, for instance, unfortunately every person of color appears to be a big bummer for riot grrrl. We are continually narrated and approached, even in retrospect, like we’re a scar or a painful memory for punk feminism – in that story, we ruined it. And there is so much more to our story than that.’’ Robles continues: The question also remains – where’s the work we made? With California being missing in the timeline, you just erase so many people. Where are the Los Angeles riot grrrls, or the punk women of color in the Bay Area who did so much art and activism related to riot grrrl or queercore, or which these movements benefited from? How come all the women of color who making impactful zines and bands are left out?57

The recent retrospective turn to tell the story of riot grrrl brings to the fore an anxiety about history, which is an anxiety about duration, which is an anxiety about the relation between past and future, which is an anxiety about lessons we might have – or should have – learned and those we did not. In short, all those things that are the hinge upon which we generate a feminist future tense. In what follows, I worry about the absence or the containment of the controversies outlined above, because how we narrate the historical and theoretical provocations of women of color is important to how we describe feminisms and how we produce feminist futures. And I want to consider what it means, exactly, to name certain lessons as


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learned, with all the implications that the past tense entails for how we might understand the future. The problem for me lies in a form of periodization – that is, how certain critical feminist inquiries are corralled as belonging to a particular historical moment, as uttered (for example) in the sentiment, Theirs was an important intervention during a period of crisis, and we learned our lessons thusly and thereafter. We can see this logic operating in retrospectives of riot grrrl in which the story of race is contained as a chapter, or a part of a chapter, in its history – if it appears at all.58 Incorporated as such, women of color feminisms appear to be temporally, and temperamentally, managed as historically bounded interventions. What I would like to extrapolate from this practice is a challenge to this not uncommon periodization of women of color feminisms, as a mere moment in our political and intellectual reckoning with the ‘‘big picture’’ of any given movement, such as riot grrrl. This troubling relation to feminist pasts is not unrelated to Wendy Brown’s ruminations on ‘‘Resisting Left Melancholy,’’ or the conservative attachment to a lost historical moment. ‘‘Left melancholy,’’ a phrase she borrows from Walter Benjamin, describes this attachment as a temporal immobility, a fixation upon a utopian feeling since disintegrated or destroyed by disjointed forces, forces that variously name the rise of neoliberal capital matched by the fall of socialist regimes, but also the fragmentation brought about by so-called identity politics as well as postmodernist and poststructuralist theories.59 And indeed, we are certainly witness to a feminist melancholy for some prior moment of feminist optimism in which the present can only be understood as failure, as Robyn Wiegman diagnoses, a relation which potentially becomes apocalyptic – heralding violence and judgment, she writes, the feminist apocalyptic predicts ‘‘the spectacular end of all things.’’60 The apocalyptic story is, as Wiegman observes, ‘‘deeply troubled by about the internal dynamics of ‘difference,’’’ and its non-identical or non-continuous temperament across generational time. We can see just such an undercurrent troubling Marcus’s Girls to the Front, in which the penultimate chapter, titled ‘‘A cruel revolution,’’ records the deterioration of the movement through the narration of a harsh incursion upon a DC-area punk collective, as some of its members (Riot Grrrl Press’s Erika Reinstein among them) accused the collective of racism (an escalating argument that resulted in small vandalism and an unprecedented banning). Even as white women are problematically identified and indeed self-appointed as a vanguard in confronting race and racism in riot grrrl (‘‘Girls of color were discussing, among themselves and with white girls, their sense that Riot Grrrl was, in fact, ‘too white’ for them to feel at home there. But it was Mary and Erika who had the means to push the discourse in the movement as a whole’’61), the historical figures who invoke race (even if disturbingly) are also the most polarizing persons, whose increasingly strident measures mark the catastrophic end of an era. Repudiation or resentment, as a sometimes unarticulated wish to disavow certain critiques (poststructuralist, postcolonial, woman of color feminist) that might otherwise taint or mutate feminisms, is a familiar feeling as numerous scholars including Lorde, Weigman, Ngai, and Ahmed, and also Edwards, Fatila, Martin, and Ortiz, aptly demonstrate. But I want to suggest that rehabilitation – that is, the affirmative incorporation of women of color feminisms as a necessary


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intervention – might also be a problematic teleology for feminist futures. As I know from watching too much reality television, the concept of an intervention is tied to temporal measures, to ‘‘good’’ and ‘‘bad’’ timing. In the vocabulary of intervention, an event is staged in a crisis (a crisis that may or may not be acknowledged as such by the person who suffers from it) to forestall a catastrophe – naming the problem (‘‘drug addiction,’’ ‘‘cult brainwashing,’’ or ‘‘imperial feminism’’), acknowledging it as a problem, and then acting upon the problem to help the addicted, the brainwashed, the imperialist feminist, to regain and restore their corporeal or intellectual integrity. Interventions are best staged before it is ‘‘too late’’ and someone is lost, beyond rehabilitation. Interventions then must be opportune, timed to occur within a brief window during which an intervention is efficacious, beneficial. Interventions are thus both irruptions of a progressive time and also course corrections that, incorporated, allow for a return to it. Here I draw upon Michel Foucault, who warned in The Archeology of Knowledge against the periodization of crisis as containment: In this system, time is conceived in terms of totalization and revolutions are never more than moments of consciousness. In various forms, this theme has played a constant role since the nineteenth century: to preserve, against all decenterings, the sovereignty of the subject, and the twin figures of anthropology and humanism.62

So do I worry that riot grrrl retrospectives will take the form of a story of the loss of a more utopian moment of feminist intimacy, into which race is either a disruption (generating bad feelings) or an intervention (feeling bad to assure that we are good) and otherwise contained as such. Such a continuous history locating women of color feminisms as a historically bounded moment along a progressive teleology would deny these feminisms a co-presence in our contemporary political and intellectual life, and their arguments a urgent relevance. Worse still, those practices of violence with which we continue to live are consigned to other times. Indeed, in an untitled piece in the recent compilation zine International Girl Gang Underground, consisting of pieces exploring the resonance of riot grrrl in the present, K. writes: ‘‘The volume of people I have seen saying that when it comes to the riot grrrl revival ‘race won’t be a problem, class won’t be a problem, transphobia won’t be a problem,’ seems to suggest a complete and total lack of both interest in and willingness to seriously engage around these issues and what they meant for riot grrrl/what they will mean for a riot grrrl revival, and that lack of serious engagement leads me to think that issues will continue to be problems within the context of a ‘future’ riot grrrl movement.’’63 Such worries are well worth observing, such that we might posit another historiographical gesture. That is, what if we refuse the emplottment of antagonism and subsequent redemption (a makeover to make better) that would render the woman of color feminist critique as mere course correction in feminist teleological time? What if the irruption, tolerated (kicking and screaming) or taught in the course of the ‘‘becoming’’ of feminist futures, is the story of these futures? What would this mean for riot grrrl retrospectives that ‘‘hold a place’’ for women of color to say their piece, but in such a way that contains their critique and segregates it from the story of the movement’s contribution? What if their critique was the contribution?


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These questions matter as a story about how feminisms are narrated through rubrics of community and antagonism, ‘‘big picture’’ and episode. Here, as I argue for displacing the given history of riot grrrl for another yet untold that understands this movement instead through the continuing presence of problematic investments in progressive time, or possessive selfhood, I’m reminded of Sara Ahmed who conjured that frightening figure of the feminist killjoy, who often appears to us in the form of the angry woman of color who refuses to move on from either institutional or epistemic violence, even after the tearful apologies and soul-searching late nights.64 In being named a killjoy, Ahmed observes, the violence the woman of color names is displaced into ‘‘the past,’’ and her continued insistence that such violence intrudes upon the present is understood to be untimely – in thus naming her a killjoy, this allochronic gesture insists that time’s passage makes increasingly tenuous the casual temporality of the violence she names as still here, with us still. Thus her refusal to move on is named the source of unreasonable violence – a binge of pain and paingiving, a crisis of proportion and duration – through which she is subsequently accused of disrupting feminist futures. After all, in a teleology in which the intervention is understood as timely but also temporary, to claim that we continue to exist in a state of emergency is to insist that feminisms cannot hope to remain selfidentical – or the same, but better – after irruption. In this essay, the lesson of the first part for the second then may be that feeling bad and looking back allows us to acknowledge that feminist futures cannot look like feminist pasts, in which the interventions of women of color are incorporated as a brief disruption into a feminist teleological time that emphasizes origins, episodes, and successions. I’m reminded here of Elizabeth Grosz, who writes that: ‘‘The project of radical politics, and thus of a radical feminist [and queer] politics, remains how to envisage and engender a future unlike the present, without being able to be specific in advance what such a future entails.’’ To undertake this project then is to insist that feminisms cannot hope to remain self-identical – or the same, but better – after irruption. Perhaps we should allow the intervention to become an interval in which we linger – not as a past that must be explained neatly or reproduced faithfully, but as a past that continually presses us to imagine a ‘‘something else to be.’’

Note on contributor Mimi Thi Nguyen is Assistant Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her first book, called The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages, focuses on the promise of ‘‘giving’’ freedom concurrent and contingent with waging war and its afterlife (Duke University Press, 2012). She is also co-editor with Fiona I.B. Ngo and Mariam Lam of a special issue of positions: asia critique on Southeast Asians in diaspora 20.3 (Winter 2012). With her second project on the obligations of beauty, she continues to pursue her scholarship through the frame of transnational feminist cultural studies, and in particular as an untangling of the liberal way of war that pledges ‘‘aid,’’ freedom, rights, movement, and other social goods. Nguyen is also coeditor with Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu of Alien Encounters: Pop Culture in Asian America (Duke University Press, 2007). Nguyen has published zines since 1991, including the compilation zine . . . Race Riot. She is a former Punk Planet columnist and a Maximumrocknroll worker,


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and her zine writing is archived at thread & circuits (http://threadandcircuits.wordpress.com/). She is also co-author of the research blog on dress and beauty threadbared (http:// iheartthreadbared.wordpress.com/).

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Notes 1. This essay has been a long time in the making – almost the entire duration of my life in punk! – having first been conceived as a seminar paper in 1997, delivered as a keynote address at a riot grrrl convention in 1999, published as one of my columns in Punk Planet in 1999, and revised much later for a plenary panel at the 12th Annual Women’s History Conference ‘‘The Message Is In The Music: Hip Hop Feminism, Riot Grrrl, Latina Music, and More,’’ at Sarah Lawrence College in March 2010. I have many people to thank for the conversations that led to this essay, including all those zinesters of color I cite and mention herein, especially Kristy Chan, Sugar Magnolia Edwards, Rita Fatila, Yumi Lee, Lauren Jade Martin, Keyan Meymand, and Bianca Ortiz. I also thank Beth Stinson and Fiona I.B. Ngoˆ for the prodding to finish this latest iteration, and Janice Radway and Christina Hanhardt for their generous, generative engagement with it. Last but not least, I thank Iraya Robles, who has been my collaborator in this ongoing inquiry for over 20 years. To our friendship I owe much of the difficult but also joyous labor of living through and understanding this history. LYLAS, Iraya. 2. See Ngoˆ (2012) for an argument about the impact of these wars and restructurings upon Los Angeles punk in the 1970s. 3. Riot Grrrl Manifesto (1991). 4. There is a significant amount of scholarship on riot grrrl, including Gayle Wald and Joanne Gottlieb, ‘‘Smells Like Teen Spirit: Riot Grrrls, Revolution, and Women in Independent Rock,’’ in Microphone Fiends: Youth Music and Youth Culture, eds. Andrew Ross and Tricia Ross (New York: Routledge, 1994), 250–74; Mary Celeste Kearney, ‘‘The Missing Links: Riot Grrrl-Feminism-Lesbian Culture,’’ in Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender, ed. Shiela Whiteley (London: Routledge, 1997), 207–29; Marion Leonard, ‘‘‘Rebel Girl, You are the Queen of my World:’ Feminism, ‘Subculture,’ and Grrrl Power,’’ in Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender, ed. Shiela Whiteley (London: Routledge, 1997), 230–55; Jessica Rosenberg and Gitana Garofalo, ‘‘Riot Grrrl: Revolutions from Within,’’ Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 23 (1998): 809–41. There are also several non-academic studies, including Nadine Monem, ed. Riot Grrrl: Revolution Grrrl Style Now! (London: Black Dog, 2007), and Sara Marcus, Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution (New York: Harper Perennial, 2010). 5. ‘‘We are destroyers of the status quo’’ is the first line from Wendy O. Williams’s song, ‘‘Destroyers.’’ 6. McAdams (n.d.). 7. Riot Grrrl 3 (n.d.). 8. Povinelli (2006, 191). 9. Fernandez Henriquez (n.d.). 10. See Stephen Duncombe, Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture (London: Verso, 1997). For more detailed analyses of the materiality of zines made by young women, and especially their literary and aesthetic qualities, see Mary Celeste Kearney, Girls Make Media (particularly her chapter ‘‘Girls Zines’’) (New York: Routledge, 2006); Adela C. Licona, ‘‘‘(B)orderlands’ Rhetorics and Representations: The Transformative Potential of Feminist Third-space Scholarship and Zines,’’ Feminist Formations 17, no. 2 (Summer 2005): 104–29; Alison Piepmeier, Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism (New York: New York University, 2009); Kristen Schilt, ‘‘Til resist with every inch and every breath’: Girls and Zine Making as a Form of Resistance,’’ Youth and Society 35, no. 1 (2003): 71–97. Emerging from within zine cultures, scholars such as Elke Zobl and Jenna Freedman are doing important work as well. See Elke Zobl,


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13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20.

21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37.

38.

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‘‘Cultural Production, Transnational Networking, and Critical Reflection in Feminist Zines,’’ and Jenna Freedman, in the ‘‘Comparative Perspectives Symposium: Feminist Zines’’ published in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 35, no. 1 (2009). Cindy Crabb interview in Piepmeier (2009, 73). See Andreas Huyssen for more on modernist (and masculinist) autonomy as resistance, abstention or suppression of mass culture. ‘‘Mass culture as woman,’’ in Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia (New York: Routledge, 1995), 55. Piepmeier (2009, 90). Hall (1989, 68). Shadid (n.d.). Eva Illouz writes of the concurrent rise of a similar discourse in that most mainstream of cultural venues, Oprah. Eva Illouz, Oprah Winfrey and the Glamour of Misery (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003). Ingrid and Zanna (n.d.). Marie (n.d.). Kelly (n.d.). Whitney (1997). We might recall that Diana Fuss writes: ‘‘The problem with attributing political significance to every personal action is that the political is soon voided of any meaning or specificity at all, and the personal is paradoxically depersonalized.’’ Diana Fuss, Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature, and Difference (New York: Routledge, 1989), 101. Or, as Keyan Meymand observes in Kreme Koolers: ‘‘Like maybe I enjoy sitting here by the bay because I just fucking like it and it’s a nice day, and not because it’s framed by some experience I’ve had being biracial or bisexual or whatever.’’ Chan (1997). Whitney (1997). Kearney (2006, 65). Marcus (2010, 165). Ortiz, Mamasita 5 (n.d.). Perez (Winter/Spring 2000). Martin (1996). The scholarship of Lila Abu-Lughod, Inderpal Grewal, Caren Kaplan, Minoo Moallem, and Ella Shohat, among many others working in transnational and postcolonial feminist studies, aptly demonstrates these congruencies. Stoler (1995). Ortiz, Mamasita 5 (n.d.). Berlant (2008, 34). Riot grrrl NYC (Spring 1995). Reinstein, Fantastic Fanzine 6 (n.d.). Erika Reinstein now goes by Billie Rain. Perkins (n.d.). Ahmed (2005, 75). Traber (2007, 134). In I’m So Fuckin’ Beautiful 2, Nomy Lamm analogies fatness with blackness as genetics. Lauraine Leblanc starts her chapter, ‘‘‘Oh, I hope I don’t catch anything:’ punk deviance and public harassment,’’ with a tale about how being punk, and subject to public harassment, is not unlike being black in public. In Pretty in Punk: Girls’ Gender Resistance in a Boys’ Subculture (Newark: Rutgers University Press, 1999). The essay in question was called ‘‘Not just posing for the postcard: A discussion of punk and the new abolition,’’ authored by Amanda Luker and published in Clamor 2, April/May 2000. Edgar also takes issue with the author’s complaint that she is not recognized as an ‘‘ally’’ by several black youth. ‘‘I guess I could just leave it at the fact that there are many ways to read someone’s appearance, and relying on fashion to convey your ideas is, to say the least, dubious. Unless you expect people from other cultures or subcultures to understand the minutiae of ours and say ‘Hey wait, she has a


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40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52.

53.

54. 55. 56. 57. 58.

59. 60. 61.

M.T. Nguyen Profane Existence patch not a Skrewdriver logo. She must be down with us.’ (And assuming that if they read Profane that would be their conclusion.)’’ Clamor 3, June/July 2000, 6. Profane Existence is a long-running anarchist punk collective based in Minneapolis. Reinstein and Fondreist (1996). This interview also included some unexplained equations. Asked to tell Mary about ‘‘all the beautiful races that you are,’’ Erika replies, ‘‘lets see. my mom is scotch-irish and newfoundlandish, which probably means English and german i think. she’s a strain and a martin. she’s also salvation armyish. and my dad is, well i’m not sure everything but i think he’s swiss, and scottish and jewish, which equals portugese [sic], possibly polish/prussian and african and that’s all i know.’’ Lipsitz (1998, vii). hooks (1989). King (1998). Ahmed (2005, 82). Sta-Prest, ‘‘Let’s Be Friendly with Our Friends/You Are the Company Spy’’, 7-inch single, Kill Rock Stars, 1996. Traber (2007, 131). Fatila (1997); Edwards (1997). Sarah Marcus chronicles some of the frustrations one woman encountered in her efforts to confront the so-called male gaze through stripping in Girls to the Front. Wald (1997, 153). Edwards (1997). Meymand (1997). Ahmed (2010, 68). I have found a scant few scholarly examinations focused on such race ‘‘troubles,’’ including Kristin Schilt’s ‘‘‘The Punk White Privilege Scene:’ Riot Grrrl, White Privilege, and Zines,’’ in Different Wavelengths: Studies of the Contemporary Women’s Movement, ed. Jo Reger (New York: Routledge), 39–56. San Francisco-based queer musician and filmmaker Jill Reiter with Iraya Robles created a short film in the 1990s called In Search of Margo-Go, starring Kathleen Hanna, about a young woman ‘‘searching’’ for Margot Olaverria, an original member of the Los Angeles all-girl band who quit in protest of her fellow band members’ desire to sign to a major label. I also note that Ericka Bailie of Pander Zine Distro carried many zines by people of color during the 1990s, and was oftentimes foremost among a cadre of allies who engaged questions of race and gender together meaningfully. See the other essays in this special issue. King (n.d.). Robles (2011). As just two examples, a 2009 Guardian feature on the ‘‘legacy of the Riot Grrrl scene’’ and a 2011 NPR retrospective called, ‘‘Revolution girl style, 20 years later,’’ nowhere mention the subjects of race (or class). See http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/ mar/04/grrrl-power-music and http://www.npr.org/blogs/therecord/2011/09/20/140640502/ revolution-girl-style-20-years-later. Brown (1999). Wiegman (2000). Marcus (2010, 251–2). It is debatable whether Mary and Erika were the only persons with the means to push the question of race to the forefront, since there were numerous women of color whose zines and critiques were well circulated at the time. It is perhaps more accurate to observe that Mary and Erika’s declaration that riot grrrl must see race, and especially whiteness, assumes that race had been previously unseen; but of course, race, and especially whiteness, have not been invisible to those who bore witness to them. It is only from the perspective of whiteness, then, that race had not already been ‘‘a discourse in the movement as a whole.’’


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62. Foucault (1982, 12). My italics. 63. K. (2010, 45). 64. Ahmed (2010, 68).

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References Ahmed, Sara. 2005. ‘‘The Politics of Bad Feeling.’’ Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies Association Journal 1: 72–85. Ahmed, Sara. 2010. The Promise of Happiness. Durham: Duke University Press. Berlant, Lauren. 2008. The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture. Durham: Duke University Press. Brown, Wendy. 1999. ‘‘Resisting Left Melancholy.’’ Boundary 26(3): 19–27. Chan, Kristy. 1997. Tennis & Violins. Self-published. Edwards, Sugar Magnolia. 1997. Funeral 2. Self-published. Fatila, Rita. 1997. Pure Tuna Fish 8. Self-published. Fernandez Henriquez, and Andrea Patricia. n.d. Photobooth Toolbox 2. Self-published. Foucault, Michel. 1982. Archeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language. New York: Vintage. Hall, Stuart. 1989. ‘‘Cultural Identity and Cinematic Representation.’’ Framework 36: 68–82. Hooks, Bell. 1989. Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black. London: Sheba Feminist Publishers. Ingrid and Zanna. n.d. Writing for Beginning. Self-published. K. 2010. Untitled. In International Girl Gang Underground, edited by Kate Watkins and Stacy Konkiel. Self-published. Kearney, Mary Celeste. 2006. Girls Make Media. New York: Routledge. Kelly, Trish. n.d. Make-out Club. Self-published. King, Nia. n.d. ‘‘The First 7-inch Was Better’’: How I Became an Ex-Punk. Self-published. ———. 1998. Ungrateful Black/White Girl. Self-published. Lamm, Nomy. n.d. I’m So Fuckin’ Beautiful 2. Self-published. Lipsitz, George. 1998. The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. McAdams, Elizabeth. n.d. Hey, White Girl. Self-published. Marcus, Sara. 2010. Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution. New York: Harper Perennial. Marie. n.d. Rock Candy 4. Self-published. Martin, Lauren Jade. 1996. You Might As Well Live 4 (split zine with Superette). Selfpublished. Meymand, Keyan. 1997. Kreme Koolers 2B. Self-published. Ngoˆ, Fiona I.B. 2012. ‘‘Punk in the Shadow of War.’’ Women & Performance 22(2): (November 2012). Ortiz, Bianca. n.d. Mamasita 5. Self-published. Perez, Celia. 2000. I Dreamed I was Assertive 3 (Winter/Spring). Self-published. Perkins, Tony. n.d. Quiet Nights for Quiet Stars 4. Self-published. Piepmeier, Alison. 2009. Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism. New York: New York University Press. Povinelli, Elizabeth A. 2006. An Empire of Love: Toward a Theory of Intimacy, Genealogy, and Carnality. Durham: Duke University Press. Reinstein, Erika. n.d. Fantastic Fanzine 6. Self-published. Reinstein, Erika, and Mary Fondreist. 1996. Wrecking Ball 3. Self-published.


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Riot Grrrl 3. n.d. Self-published. Riot Grrrl Manifesto. 1991. Self-published. Riot Grrrl NYC. 1995. Slambook 1 (Spring). Self-published. Robles, Iraya. 2011. Personal interview, July 29. Shadid, Basil. n.d. Spiral Upward 1. Self-published. Stoler, Ann Laura. 1995. Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Traber, Daniel. 2007. Whiteness, Otherness, and the Individualism Paradox from Huck to Punk. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Wald, Gayle. 1997. ‘‘One of the Boys? Whiteness, Gender, and Popular Music Studies.’’ In Whiteness: A Critical Reader, edited by Mike Hill, 151–167. New York: New York University Press. Whitney. 1997. Alien 13. Self-published. Wiegman, Robyn. 2000. ‘‘Feminism’s Apocalyptic Futures.’’ New Literary History 31(4): 805–825.


Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory Vol. 22, Nos. 2–3, July–November 2012, 197–201

The First 7-inch was Better: How I Became an Ex-punk Nia King*

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Oakland, CA, USA In the 2008 zine The First 7-inch was Better, Nia King (who also selfpublished the zines Angry Black-White Girl and Borderlands) comes forward to declare her status as an ex-punk after years of watching punk activist communities fail to live up to their alleged anti-racist, anti-sexist, and pro-queer ideals. Having grown up in the punk scene, as a queer woman of color, King now refuses to leave parts of herself at the door in order to be part of a musical scene that she once truly enjoyed, and attempts to gives hope to others mired in what she sees as a culture where women, queers, and people of color will always have to fight for the visibility, validation, and punk ‘‘authenticity’’ their white, male counterparts often take for granted. Keywords: women of color; race; punk; borders; queer; resistance; visibility

I went to a show last night where a band was selling patches that read, ‘‘Abolish the White Punk.’’ Looking around, the irony was like a slap in the face. After years of trying to wear the right clothes, the right hairstyle, the right makeup, and always falling short, I said ‘‘fuck it’’ and became a punk rocker. Growing up in an Irish Catholic suburb of Boston, I knew that I was different, but as a young teenager I didn’t get that it was because I was brown or because I was queer, I just knew I didn’t fit in. So I began sewing band patches on my clothing, dying my hair bright colors, and expressing distain for those who conformed to the dominant culture, who thought they were better than me. I probably wouldn’t have stayed a punk for so long if it was all about fashion, but I found community through the music scene. At school, my anti-war fliers were torn off the wall and the ‘‘alternative’’ kids I played hacky-sack with turned openly racist once the war with Afghanistan became imminent. But when I turned 16, I started making trips to the city by myself, where I made a number of punk friends. Though I was put off by their nihilistic lifestyle, they were political and opposed the war, so

*Email: niaking@zoho.com ISSN 0740–770X print/ISSN 1748–5819 online ! 2012 Women & Performance Project Inc. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2012.721081 http://www.tandfonline.com


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I already had more in common with them than anyone I knew in my hometown. As a result, I spent most weekends of my sophomore year watching them spange for beer money in front of Little Stevie’s, get drunk, snort pills, and play with knives in the dimly lit Fens or in their band’s sweaty basement practice space. Junior year, I had the privilege of transferring to a progressive, queer-friendly, activist private high school, an alternate universe where being a sea-shanty-singing Communist made you an interesting character and not just an insufferable nerd. My closest friend there was an anarchist and he converted me quickly. ‘‘The abolition of hierarchy’’ in my mind translated to the abolition of racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, etc. so I dove headfirst into Goldman, Zinn, and Chomsky and began organizing. We started an anarchist student group on campus, which organized teach-ins on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and trips to anti-war protests. Coming from such a conservative town, I was easily intoxicated by the romance of ‘‘smashing’’ racism and patriarchy, without knowing quite how I would do so, or how committed those around me were to the idea. I graduated high school satisfied with the sense that I had earned my stripes in Boston’s punk-activist community. I’d booked benefit shows, been a core member of our local Food Not Bombs (FNB) chapter and most importantly, earned the recognition of other important movers and shakers in the scene. I moved to Baltimore for art school expecting it’d be easy to pick up where I left off. But in Baltimore, nihilism was king and activism was rarely actualized between drunken mosh pits on broken-beer-bottle-covered floors.

‘‘I can count the number of political punks I know on one hand.’’ I hated art school, dropped out, and moved back to Boston, but all my highschool friends were gone. I relied on Food Not Bombs and anarcho-punk activist circles for community. It worked for a while, but I began to become disillusioned when Food Not Bombs was in danger of going under and none of the punks who were our best friends when they wanted us to cater their shows could volunteer a few hours to help keep us going. My disillusionment continued as I became involved in organizing against the dangerous biomedical facility Boston University planned to build in Roxbury – at the time, one of Boston’s poorest and brownest neighborhoods. Punks organized separately from the Roxbury residents who would be most impacted by the lab. Despite not being from the community, the punks were determined that high-risk direct action would be the best and most effective method to stop the lab from being built. They didn’t understand why some of the community members they worked with were less than eager to turn out for their ‘‘die-in’’ or come to their punk show fundraisers. My faith in anarcho-punk organizing took another fatal blow at the ‘‘Radical Queer Community Space,’’ a social/support group run by a queer punk who thought butch and femme identities were inherently misogynistic. At one point, the group decided we wanted to do an action to draw attention to the plight of queer prisoners.


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‘‘Maybe we could dress up like prisoners who have been sexually assaulted?’’ the leader suggested.

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I also started to notice how competition and vying for status pervaded every anarcho-punk show and event. Everyone seemed out to prove how many important scenemakers they knew. To prove how down they were by calling out others instead of checking their own oppressive behaviors and exclusive organizing tactics. How much more radical/puritanical their lifestyle politics were and how much more nuanced their analysis was than yours, thus making them better activists, punks, and human beings. In a community that denounced competition as capitalist, allegedly in favor of cooperation and mutual aid, we were constantly trying to one-up each other.

‘‘I’m on a no-sugar, no-dairy, no-gluten diet now, and I only drink tea from plants I harvest myself. But I eat meat because I figure soy farms are worse for the environment.’’ Pervading punk culture was this pressure to prove how tough we were by acting macho (while claiming to be feminists, men and women alike). I later found this to be both exhausting and a convincing explanation of why punk is such a dudefest, but for a time I was all about it. I’m tough, I can hang with the boys, I thought. I distinctly remember seeing a femininely dressed girl at a show and wondering ‘‘whose girlfriend she was.’’ Didn’t we all know that punk was a boy’s game and you had to outdude the dudes to win. You know, drink more, cuss more, mosh harder? She was definitely not dudely, and not even trying! When I got tired of trying to out-bro everyone and wanted to be real with people. I realized there was no room in punk for my queer, brown, androgynous ass. The scene was almost entirely white, mostly male and there was very little visibility for gender non-conforming folks within it. We were ‘‘queer’’ in the straightest of ways and ‘‘anti-racist’’ in the whitest. We all claimed to be feminist, so why did sexual assault keep happening within our scene again and again?

‘‘I heard that guy’s kind of sleazy, but I don’t know if it was really necessary for those girls to protest his show. He does a lot for the community. He’s been in like eight bands.’’ Not having to examine one’s own privilege was a recurring theme in the activism I witnessed and was involved in in Boston. We organized for immigrant rights without actually knowing any immigrants. We facilitated workshops on consent without knowing how to hold perpetrators we saw every day accountable. We shouted about class war and believed that eating out of dumpsters and shoplifting absolved us of our trust funds.


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I soon learned that ‘‘no war but the class war’’ meant ‘‘white dudes first, women, queers and brown people later.’’ The red-and-black anarchists (a.k.a. anarchocommunists) told me that racism and sexism were a product of capitalism, so I should just help them dismantle it, and my liberation would come. . . eventually. The green-and-black anarchists (a.k.a. anarcho-primitivists) told me that racism and sexism were products of industrial civilization, so I should learn to hunt and gather and wait patiently for its collapse. No one seemed to be putting issues which impact women, queers, and people of color first, thus marginalized people were only further marginalized within this ‘‘counter-culture.’’

‘‘What do you want us to do? Hang a sign that says ‘Black people welcome’ outside the meeting?’’ I think some of them may have seen me as a white woman in a straight relationship, though I am mixed-race, POC-identified, and militantly queer. Groups I was in felt that anti-oppression training wasn’t important and some members of those groups believed in ‘‘reverse racism,’’ the same members that were trying to organize communities of color against the BioLab! I allowed aspects of my identity to take a back seat when I was in the punk scene, but I don’t think I could subject myself to the same erasure now. When I moved to Denver, I actively avoided the punk scene. Instead I fell in with a queer community that was politically active and more racially diverse than the scene I was coming from. There I met a number of other mixed-race folks, folks of color, and even white folks who validated my identity as a Black pansexual queer woman with an ever-changing gender presentation. I think people with marginalized identities are asked to leave part of themselves at the door when they enter white, straight, and male-dominated spaces, which most of the punk/anarchist spaces I’ve experienced are. In this crucial way, punk counterculture is no better than the dominant culture which devalues queer, POC, and feminine identities. Sometimes, my initial reaction when I run into a punk on the street is to seek recognition. ‘‘Your patches show me that you are a fan of WitchHunt. I enjoy WitchHunt as well,’’ or ‘‘Nice Choking Victim T-shirt. You know, I saw their 9/11 reunion show in Tompkins Square Park.’’ But I have wasted far too much time and energy vying for the acceptance of people whose piercings and dreadlocks give them more cred than my anti-oppression work will ever grant me. I couldn’t get ahead in a scene where one’s worth was proven by hopping trains, not showering, and being seen at the right shows, so I stopped trying. I no longer have the desire to be accepted by people who hide behind their ‘‘radical’’ lifestyle politics and only work with other young, white, childless people who eat out of dumpsters and can afford to get arrested to make a point. I’ve got something better now, a community of queer activists and activists of color whose priorities are more like mine, who accept me for who I am.


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Punk was an incredibly important formative influence in my life because it provided my first activist community, where my politics grew up. I still like some of the music and see having come up in that scene as an integral part of who I am. But it shouldn’t surprise anybody that I grew out of and grew alienated by the punk scene, then submitted to a punk zine to talk shit about it.

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Because what’s more punk than biting the hand that feeds you?

Note on contributor Nia King is a queer, mixed-race writer, illustrator, drummer, filmmaker, and activist of color from outside of Boston, Massachusetts currently residing in Oakland, California. She has authored several zines on mixed-race and queer identity, including Angry Black-White Girl and the Borderlands series. Her writing has also been published in Zine Yearbook 9 and Race Revolt Magazine. Nia dropped out of art school in Baltimore, studied social work in Denver, and recently graduated from Mills College in Oakland with a BA in Ethnic Studies. She has worked as a queer anti-violence advocate, a crisis counselor, a grassroots fundraiser, a student organizer, and a film curator. She is currently working on trying to get her undergraduate thesis, ‘‘Mangos with Chilli: Life-Sustaining Performance Art for and by Queer and Transgender People of Color’’ published and her short comedic film, ‘‘The Craigslist Chronicles’’ ready to submit to festivals. You can find more of her zines available at Stranger Danger Distro and the Queer Zine archive project.


Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory Vol. 22, Nos. 2–3, July–November 2012, 203–232

Punk in the Shadow of War Fiona I.B. Ngoˆ*

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Department of Asian American Studies and Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL, USA As punk reformulated topics and modes of resistance in the late 1970s, the impact of wars in Southeast Asia, as well as continuing histories of imperialist aggression elsewhere, served as a way for Los Angeles’s racially and sexually diverse punk scene to imagine itself as resistant through (sometimes simultaneous) affiliation with and disassociation from the state, military, and acts of capitalist violence. This article reimagines the context for punk’s politics by following racial, residential, and economic patterns, the influx of refugees, and the subsequent reimagination of punk spaces such as Hollywood, the Canterbury Apartments, and Chinatown to trace themes of race, sexuality, and violence. Keywords: punk; diaspora; Los Angeles; Chinatown; Vietnam War; race

We’re now in peacetime. There’s no Vietnam . . . there’s no Mr. Nixon . . . and they must have some rebellion. . . . They’ve a desire to make their own statement.1 Rock promoter Bill Graham, October 1977

While the story of punk is often told as a story of rebelling against the musical drivel that was being served up by corporate music labels, against boredom, or against nothing much at all, punk in Los Angeles must be recognized as happening at a critical juncture in the region’s relation to US imperium. In many ways, the official end of the US war in Southeast Asia in 1975 caused a renegotiation of the meanings of the political for youth in the US and around the world. Because youth politics had previously been so heavily focused against the war and Nixon, and as Bill Graham’s reading of the early formation of the punk subculture above attests, these young artists and intellectuals may have felt the need to create new targets for rebellion. Graham’s statement, though, covers over the fact that war, US military training operations abroad, and weapons manufacture continued undaunted in this period. The US

*Email: ngo@illinois.edu ISSN 0740–770X print/ISSN 1748–5819 online ! 2012 Women & Performance Project Inc. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2012.720826 http://www.tandfonline.com


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presence continued in Southeast Asia, even as arms deals and military trainings were beginning to take place with increasing frequency in Central America.2 ‘‘The war,’’ in other words, still loomed, in terms of its enduring imperial ideologies and military actions, the imperial logics that guided thought both abroad and at home, and in terms of the shifting economic grounds that transformed the landscapes of military industrial labor in Los Angeles. For while April 1975 may have marked the official end of ‘‘conflict’’ for the United States, its empire still needed to be maintained, and the effects of empire and wars around the world came home in the form of refugees, immigrants, and continued imperial logic. That relationship shaped aesthetic production, artistic desire, and expressions and targets of rebellion, and, importantly, helped provide a logic for the creation of various forms of resistant subjectivities for these youth, whose lives were charged with violence, economic restructuring, and changes in urban/ suburban spatial and demographic arrangements. In considering the multifarious effects of empire, then, I turn to the creation of resistant punk subjectivity through its coincidence with the ‘‘Fall of Saigon’’ in 1975. While I would agree that punk represents a pointed attempt to re-imagine politics through music, writing, fashion, and lifestyle, I join other punk scholars, such as Dick Hebdige, Paul Gilroy, Michelle Habell-Palla´n, Mimi Nguyen, and Golnar Nikpour, in re-contextualizing these burgeoning forms of rebellion within a transnational context (and that is to say, too, that punk does not only take place in sites in the US or the U.K., but was played all over the world in the 1970s).3 Here, I particularly consider war in the US’ various elsewheres, and how the role of immigration, alongside the imperial imagination, lend meaning to the performance of punk’s resistant stance. That is, imperial logic creates the means for understanding and producing punk’s resistant subjectivities. When I write of ‘‘imperial logic,’’ I mean that imperialism orders subjectivity by situating place and people through specific spatial narratives.4 For punks, this meant that the creation of resistant subjectivities happened over and against the real and imagined personages of Southeast Asia. Punks might identify with Vietnamese soldiers, fighting for freedom against the US state, like ‘‘Charley in the bush,’’ as The Gun Club frontman Jeffrey Lee Pierce put it. Or they might don military fatigues like Lee Ving of Fear, as a show of their militarized engagement in an urban war. The collocation and relocation of bodies, identities, and the spaces of war provides a new genealogical context for the production of punk in Los Angeles in those critical years when the US military-industrial complex refocused production from serving wars in Southeast Asia to those in Central America, the tax base of the region disappeared, and the demography rapidly shifted through migration out of the urban center, as well as through new immigration from outside national borders. The non-punk refugees, immigrants, and people of color that shared punks’ intimate and public spaces, lent the scene a sense of credibility from the bottom up. That is to say that living, performing, and eating among refugees, immigrants, people of color, and other urban dwellers magnified the punks’ sense of outsiderness – a form of subjectivity written through resistance – but also gave them spaces to explore new aesthetic and political directions as racialized wars continued to situate encounters with the heterogeneous populations of the city.5


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The rhetoric of the Vietnam War (and the ‘‘Vietnamization’’ of policing), the continuing stature of the defense industry in L.A., and the arrival of immigrants compelled to the United States by those wars, had a profound impact on racial, gendered, and sexual epistemologies in the region. To think through narrations of subjectivity and identity in the context of the punk scene, this article is divided into four sections. The first section explores the ways in which punks empathized and identified with Southeast Asians (as Viet Cong and as refugees), imagined as either the enemies of the state and capital, or with those whose positions in Los Angeles’s restructured defense-industry-heavy economy marked them as social outsiders. Using the specific context of US imperium, but also Los Angeles’s investments in the defense industry, these narratives of rebellion ranged from fighting the police, to glamorizing racialized poverty to spite Los Angeles’ moneyed interests, to critiquing the entertainment industry that enveloped Hollywood’s young denizens. Interestingly, punks could also repeat the language of the state and the justifications of liberal capital in pathologizing poverty, immigrants, and people of color as a means to demonstrate punk outsiderness. While the first section focuses on the punks’ ideas of wartime and race at home, the second section delves further into how these ideas guided interactions between punks and non-punks at the Canterbury Apartments, a key site of punk scene making. The Canterbury, co-habited by punk and non-punk immigrants, Southeast Asian refugees, the poor, and people of color, demonstrates the complexities of the mobilization of identity narratives. Punks simultaneously relied on their alliance with their new neighbors and reiterated pathologizing and de-subjectifying stories about their racialized neighbors as a means to create themselves as societal outsiders, purposely rejecting middle-class values, respectable sexuality, and staid gender roles – a position that also put them into conflict with their neighbors. Violence as a form of resistant identity structures the third section of the article. Both violence against punks and perpetrated by punks could be read as galvanizing for the punk scene. This section focuses on Chinatown, another multiracial space, to argue that racial, gendered, and sexual transgression marked punks for particular kinds of violence, but that punks, in turn, also differentiated themselves from and against non-punk immigrants, using orientalist stereotypes to identify these immigrants as illiberal and irrational. Following a riot at one of the restaurants that hosted punk shows, the courtyard that separated Madame Wong’s from the Hong Kong Cafe´ came to symbolize a wedge between punks, new wavers, and immigrant business owners. This wedge, however, also demonstrated the complex political, racial, sexual, and gendered negotiations that punk embodied. The concluding section draws connections between the forms of resistance available to punks in the late 1970s and the emergence of new forms of policing and incarceration in this era, and indicates how their future growth depended on the same modes of imperial logic that came out of the ‘‘forming’’ years of punk.6 As such, I argue that as punk reformulated topics and modes of resistance, the impact of the wars in Southeast Asia, as well as continuing histories of imperialist aggression elsewhere, served as a way for this racially and sexually diverse punk scene to imagine itself as resistant through (sometimes simultaneous) affiliation with and disassociation from the state, military, and acts of capitalist violence.


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‘‘Make the music go bang!’’ ‘‘I was a Viet Cong cadre escaping the Americans,’’ remembers The Gun Club’s Jeffrey Lee Pierce. Well, he was re-telling a story about a drug-addled version of himself as told to him by Freddie ‘‘Phast Phreddie’’ Patterson, editor of and main contributor to the music rag Backdoor man and the impulse behind Phast Phreddie and Thee Precisions, creating a narrative distance from the story that lends an air of myth or legend. ‘‘The arrival of the Cramps in L.A. convinced us that there was plenty of American culture out there that needed to be destroyed,’’ Pierce recalls. ‘‘I highlighted this period by smashing a hundred-dollar Ersel Hickey single on Sunset Boulevard and shouting ‘Fuck rockabilly!’ According to Phast Phreddie, I then promptly hid in the brush beside the Cinerama Dome at the sound of police helicopters, convinced that I was a Viet Cong cadre escaping the Americans.’’7 Here, through Pierce’s affiliation with the North Vietnamese Army, he names himself as an outsider to US systems of power. He creates an identity resistant to modes of US cultural production, the police, and the state through an inherited imperial logic, wherein he re-imagines himself as Vietnamese fighting the US military state, a model still available and relevant to his imagination despite the official end of war. Pierce also relocates the war zone to Sunset Boulevard in the heart of Hollywood, a place that still buzzes with police helicopters for much of the night. It is through this twinned re-location of war in Southeast Asia to Hollywood and his own rebirth as a ‘‘Viet Cong cadre,’’ that the mixed race (Chicano and white) Pierce imagines himself as the punk resistant subject. Many works in the field of ethnic studies link the policing of men of color, their interpellation into the criminal-justice system, and the sense of cultural unbelonging that accompanies these consequences of gendering and racialization.8 While these stories could very well hold true for Pierce, who understands, even when inebriated, that he is a likely target for policing and that he may not fit into commercial music cultures, his reaction and his stories about punk subjecthood read as racially ambivalent. His cross-racial, cross-national identification has as much to do with marking his racialized selfhood as it does with marking punk in general through the signs and symbols of Viet Nam and war. While Pierce in particular is fascinated by the war (The Gun Club also covered Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Viet Nam-themed ‘‘Run through the jungle,’’ in a wonderfully deranged and gut-wrenching manner), he was certainly not alone in experiencing the aftermath of the war at home in Los Angeles. Because of economic restructuring that hit the region – akin to effects of recession and public policy that brought deindustrialization, but also different in important ways – the new and more visible levels of racial segregation, poverty, and homelessness provided a particular backdrop against which punk could situate itself, and from which it might differentiate itself. Far from leaving the metaphors of war behind, as suggested by promoter Bill Graham above, the shadow of war persisted to lend punk meaning in ideological, cultural, and material ways. The conditions of economic restructuring, engendered in part by white flight from the city core, became the backdrop for understanding punk as a ‘‘realist’’ mode through the racialization of space. The narrative of Los Angeles punk was strongly associated with the seedier elements of the city juxtaposed with the commercialized


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glamour evoked by Hollywood as the entertainment capital of the United States. Indeed, the politics of punk in Los Angeles relied on racial geographies of poverty, dispossession, and the gendered and sexual pathologizations associated with these social factors. This was particularly true of the music and reception of X, the band composed of John Doe, Exene Cervenka, DJ Bonebrake, and Billy Zoom. First with the release of the single ‘‘Los Angeles’’ and then the album of the same name, they were often characterized as successfully capturing the timbre of life in Los Angeles. Art and rock critic Kristine McKenna, for example, describes the band’s ‘‘resolute avoidance of show-biz artifice and the unflinching realism of its songs.’’9 These determinations were no doubt made in part because of the edginess of the music they composed, and the connection of ‘‘realism’’ with racialization and poverty. The song ‘‘Los Angeles,’’ for instance, begins with piercing staccato major chords: E–C–D–G– A (a 5–3–4–6#–1 sequence). It is a stark and jarring opening sequence composed of chords that are not dissonant, but were also not often heard together in contemporary pop music which still relied on sweeter 1–4–5 progressions with relative minor thirds.10 This song, on the other hand, announced itself with a break from that kind of standard chordal sequence, sounding out a rougher edge and an entre´e into a racialized view of the city, reinforced by chordal movement along this minor pentatonic scale, used most often in the playing of the blues.11 The opening lyrics reinforce the feelings composed by the beginning chords, proclaiming a desire to leave the city because of the heterogeneous population composed of African Americans, Jewish people, Chicanos, queers, and ‘‘the idle rich,’’ a pose that has been read with much ambivalence. The band, for instance, points out that the song is about punk scenester Farah Faucet-Minor, a racist friend of Exene’s, who could no longer cope with the characters found in L.A. According to the band, then, the song is not necessarily an expression of their ideas about race, but rather a sketch of another lost soul in the city.12 Jose´ Esteban Mun˜oz, argues, however, that the song can still alienate those members of X’s audience who identify as queers of color (or, presumably, those who are anti-racist), and that to participate in the ‘‘cultural critique of normative aesthetics’’ that punk promises, some would have to identify tactically with the subculture.13 Encouraged by his complex reading of meaning making, one might argue that the song engages in multiculturalism by displaying the racial and sexual variety of the city, while simultaneously deriding that sector of the population, representing part of the range of and contradictions inherent to racial attitudes in the city. The band, regardless of intention, was heralded as relaying with expert eyes and ears those parts of the city that were not available to most. Their connection to these characters boosted their ethos as adventurous and journalistic storytellers, unafraid of the coarser elements of a city in recession. Of course, for this reading to make sense, one needs to pathologize people of color, the poor, and queers, to transform them into those coarser elements, which can, in turn, lend a sense of realism to the musical landscape. In short, the band could rely on their affiliation with these elements, granted through proximity, but also their disassociation with these same people, named through deviant discourses of race, poverty, and sexuality, to authenticate their unheard music as ‘‘real’’ in contradistinction to the presumably rosier output of the far-reaching entertainment industry.


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The song does not speak directly about the war, but the circumstances described in ‘‘Los Angeles’’ – the racial and ethnic diversity and the ‘‘idle rich,’’ who stand in for the visible and expanding wealth gap – were created through shifts in L.A. County’s economic sector related to wartime changes. While Mun˜oz reads the song as ‘‘a fairly standard tale of white flight from the multiethnic metropolis,’’ the engineered poverty and racialization over which a scenster like Farah Faucet-Minor might become anxious, originated in a series of changes related to labor and legislation governing taxes and social services.14 Heavy in large-scale military manufacturing, like the airplanes coming out of Boeing and Lockheed or the electronics technology built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Los Angeles County had been home to many defense-industry companies for decades. So what helped to precipitate this particular heterogeneous mix in the core of the city? Much of the answer lies in the shifting economic structure of Los Angeles, and the shift from a manufacturing sector that relied on union labor, to a manufacturing sector of ‘‘unskilled,’’ deunionized, and immigrant labor. This created a growing underclass in Los Angeles and its surrounding environs. Unlike other US cities, while Los Angeles County lost some manufacturing jobs during the course of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s (many outsourced to adjacent Orange and Riverside Counties), it actually gained some manufacturing jobs in the late ‘70s. Generally, these jobs – many in reconfigured military manufacturing and in a rapidly growing garment industry composed of new sweatshops – were non-union, paid less, and came with fewer worker protections.15 While the re-structuring of labor caused a decrease in wealth amongst the working and middle class, the number of jobs available actually increased in the region, setting it apart from those other subcultural sites like the manufacturing-heavy Detroit, or the deindustrial dispossession that burned the Bronx. Punk, then, like other types of emergent musical forms and subcultural practices such as those associated with hip hop, rap, and salsa, should be made sense of in the context of the reordered economy of the mid- to late 1970s that was precipitated by the official end of war and the resultant slowing of the economy.16 For punk in Los Angeles, the mobilization of racial, gendered, and sexual narratives provided points of departure for telling untold stories about the psychological, cultural, and material effects of recession. For a band like X, this meant that the subjects of their songs now reflected the demographic and economic changes to the urban core, elements that could also lend a sense of ‘‘realism’’ to their music. In other words, economic restructuring provided songwriting material, the context for the punk ethos, and ground upon which to stage cultural resistance. The deterioration of the city, then, was marked through stories of racialized deviancy and even violence, circumstances that filmmaker Penelope Spheeris dubbed ‘‘The decline of Western civilization’’ in her 1979 documentary on the early Los Angeles punk scene.17 In those moments when punk becomes the cultural site of ethics because it ‘‘tells the truth’’ about the city, about poverty, about repressed rage, it is responding to pressures of recession and often does so through the language of race. Turning again to Jeffrey Lee Pierce (this time his writing in an article and interview with X published in 1980 in which he makes connections between punk’s


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authenticity, ideas of racialized urban poverty, and figurations of war to describe the band’s ‘‘unflinching realism’’):

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There’s another part of Los Angeles people don’t hear about. There’s the part where old Hollywood landmarks are rotting into ground and nightlife consists of ducking off streets to avoid the endless warfare between Mexicans and Blacks. It’s the part where $200 buys you a linoleum-peeling apartment with a roach bed and sometimes a toilet of your own. No movie stars. No rock stars. No chic and no art. The closest anyone gets to well-off is watching the Japanese tourists with a million cameras getting off the bus on Hollywood and Vine, unaware that movie stars haven’t been there since World War II. It’s not all as bad as Watts, but it’s just like any other city.18

The narrative of urban poverty connected to the ‘‘realness’’ of punk here is told through the racialization and structural decay of the city. Pierce disabuses his readers of the myth of Hollywood to establish another harsh reality of living in the city, one that helps to situate punk within contentious histories, where the Watts Riots are in the not-too-distant past. ‘‘This is when L.A.’s small punk scene has been creeping since those first memorable chords were struck back in 1977,’’ Pierce reminds his audience.19 Though the city is composed of an ever-moving heterogeneous population, this narrative relies on the association between urbanity, race, and nation to draw a cloak of danger around this account, making its case for the particular reality that punk tells and lives. Pierce further provides a connection for thinking through the violence of Los Angeles street life and the imperial imagination, one that, ironically, the Los Angeles Police Department also made, as will be discussed at the end of this article. He concludes that L.A.’s punks in the cityscape are not unlike the Viet Cong: ‘‘Bands playing in cellars and bars like Charley in the bush, waiting to jump with shiny knives on the rock and roll establishment.’’20 The imperial imagination thus provides a starting point for identification with former enemies of the state such that US imperium creates modes of resistance in the domestic sphere as well as abroad. Interestingly, here, though, not only is police-on-punk and punk-on-entertainment industry violence metaphorized, but also gang violence as war. When X sings ‘‘bang, bang, make the music go bang!’’ one is left to wonder at whom this sonic M16 is leveled.21 For Pierce, the borrowing of Vietnamese identity constructs him as an enemy of the state, a threatening someone for whom the establishment – the police, corporate media, and the government – should be on the lookout, at least in his creation of self. Simultaneously, he composes his credentials, and the authenticity of the band and the scene, in general, through a racial reckoning, where proximity to racialized bodies and racialized violence prove the veracity of the music and of their lifestyles. The grit of life is written through the pathologization of race and young punks’ willingness to live amongst those already marked as deviant. Importantly punks in these examples do not interrupt that narrative of deviancy; rather, they rely upon it to demonstrate their worth, to create a resistant punk subjectivity. The complex story of white flight in the song ‘‘Los Angeles’’ is bookended by Pierce’s reference to Watts (about 18 miles south of the heart of Hollywood), where those famous riots burned for days in 1965. Presciently, Pierce notes above that Hollywood is not like Watts, but the use of space in these stories also points to how the county was increasingly racially segregated. Hollywood housed new immigrants


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and poor whites, as well as longer-standing communities of color that were facing decreases in social services and increases in policing and surveillance. The San Fernando Valley to the north, on the other hand, housed a whiter population that included a higher concentration of defense-industry engineers and white-collar workers.22 One of the biggest splits in geography happened, however, with the fight over 1978’s Proposition 13, which lowered property taxes an average of 57% in Los Angeles County. Led by homeowners in the San Fernando Valley, Prop. 13 effectively wiped out the County’s financial base for providing social services to its expanding underclass. The new economic structure took on particular significance for LA’s punks as the terms for the formation of resistant subjectivities. For someone like Pierce, the demographic changes of the region were reflected in his movement from the racially diverse community of El Monte to the increasingly whiter San Fernando Valley, a dislocating move, that in recollection, helps to explain his retreat into Hollywood. For Pierce, his time in the Valley made visible the connections between wealth, whiteness, and whitewashed cultural production. It also helped him to articulate racialized sexual desire in relationship to his identity as a resistant individual. Pierce remembers, I was raised by a Mexican mother in El Monte and had spent my entire life in her family environment. I was even briefly in a gang at Velle Lindo High School. I understood Spanish and spoke a little. I have a penchant for black-haired girls and can deliver a fearsome street rap. It’s all part of my Mexican upbringing. The girls of my youth were all either Mexican, Korean, Japanese, or Black. The Mexican girls were often inaccessible – property of the cholos. But the Asian girls were excellent students, and often lonely and as inexperienced as I was. Among Latinos or Asians, I always felt quite at home. I even experienced some militancy when my family moved to the San Fernando Valley . . . being unable to get along with the wealthy Anglo kids. I was always reading Eldridge Cleaver or Huey Newton, supporting the Viet Cong, who were my idols. Needless to say, I didn’t have very many friends.23

Pierce’s relocation to the Valley sparked his feelings of cultural unbelonging, here expressed through adolescent desires for sexual companionship, racial rights, and a critique of the state. Fascinatingly, his feelings of sexual desire for Latinas and Asian women connect to both his being raised in a Latino family and his cross-racial identification with the Viet Cong. His sexuality, then, is part of what pits him against his new environs in the Valley, where whiteness was the rule. His desires mark him as resistant to white wealth, and provide (1) a rationale for moving to Hollywood, with its multiracial population; (2) a mode to resist what is outside of Hollywood such as the imagined vanilla northern suburbs; and (3) a direction for his angsty musical productions and journalism. In short, economic restructuring hits at the foundation of his identity, and the reconfigured spaces of L.A. County provide a raison d’eˆtre for his politics. Pierce was not the only punk affected by the economic restructuring and the movement of the white middle class out of the urban core. This demographic shift also made new spaces available to wayward youth in Los Angeles, who could in turn reshape and repurpose residential buildings, restaurants, and porn theaters. These spaces – some shared by recent immigrants, the poor, and people of color, some not – became spaces where various kinds of resistance and aesthetic production


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could be staged. Part of the punk population who sought to re-inhabit abandoned spaces were recently homeless youth. Simultaneous with the shift of industrial structures in the early 1970s was the movement of funds from Great Society-era programs that supported civil-rights gains to the growing Vietnam-era militaryindustrial complex.24 Even before the passage of Proposition 13, programs to house runaway youth were deinstitutionalized.25 Homeless punk kids proactively found themselves squatting in buildings like Errol Flynn’s old mansion at the top of Fuller St., reshaping the City of Angels through punk geographies.26 Squats like Errol Flynn’s house and Doheny Manor, and communal punk houses like Dangerhouse and the Plunger Pit, later served as headquarters for bands, crash pads for outof-town punks, spaces to start record labels and to write zines. Likewise, spaces such as Chinese restaurants, which had served ethnic populations, recent Vietnamese refugees, and other city dwellers, were re-imagined as punk stages: bands played regularly at the Cathay de Grande, the Hong Kong Cafe´, and Madame Wong’s.27 It was partially because of the disappearance of the middle class from the urban center that punks could re-inhabit these spaces. The multicultural urban setting that housed punk presented as many opportunities for alliance as it did for violence with the communities that shared spaces with the punks. As Daniel S. Traber writes about Los Angeles’ early punks: ‘‘To resist master narratives that they found static and repressive, to establish an independent sense of self freed from the mainstream, a small fringe group of youth pursued a life based upon the inner-city underclass denied access to the American dream, an identity I call the ‘sub-urban.’’’28 For Traber, the sub-urban is a spatialized and racialized identity that is taken on by white punks in order to create resistant identities.29 Extending Traber’s analysis, I argue that the creation of ‘‘punk’’ as a particular grouping that excludes non-punk refugees, immigrants, the poor, and people of color who inhabit the same spaces meant that punks of color were not immune to reproducing narratives of race, nation, poverty, and pathologization as modes of subject making. The use of race as an analytic uncovers a complex picture of the structures of power that guided modes of resistance, the various responses to the new urban landscape, and the ways in which race was connected to notions of pathological or deviant gender and sexuality.

The everyday practice of punk Whereas the previous section explored the economic and demographic changes wrought by war alongside affiliation with the Vietnamese against US militarization abroad and at home, this section explores the stories punks tell about co-habiting spaces with the poor, people of color, immigrants, and refugees. Where the imagined bodies of Viet Cong in the US’ elsewhere epitomized resistance, when those bodies ‘‘came home’’ to US domestic space, their political subjectivity is evacuated from their bodies in stories of the everyday practice of punk. Punk subjectivity, as narrated through these spaces, is engendered against a subjectless backdrop of racialized and sexualized deviancy situated by the immediateness of poverty and people of color.


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In other words, while punks inhabited the same spaces as non-punk poor, people of color, immigrants, and refugees, who were not themselves imagined as resistant subjects, punks often narrated themselves as resistant because they inhabited those spaces in proximity to these communities of color. This section focuses on the example of the Canterbury Apartments – reportedly the site of the famous Blue Dahlia murders of the 1940s that, by the 1970s, transformed into ‘‘a very seedy, smelly, cockroach-ridden refuge for poor minorities and pink-haired freaks’’ – because it illustrates the complex and unequal assignment of subjectivity within a quintessentially diverse environment.30 Situated about a block north of L.A.’s first punk club, the Masque (a space in the basement of The Pussycat [porn] Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard), the Canterbury filled with punks beginning in 1977.31 Acknowledged widely in both punk magazines from the 1970s and in oral histories elucidating the time period as being a prototypical part of the punk scene, the Canterbury was a sometime rehearsal space, a residence, an after-gig party place, and a crash pad for out-of-town or inebriated punks. Javier Escovedo, guitarist and lead singer of San Diego’s The Zeros, recalls, for instance: ‘‘In L.A. we would . . . stay with friends at the Canterbury (a run-down apartment building full of druggies, alkies, punks and cockroaches).’’32 Even in Escovedo’s brief description, one gets a sense of the ramshackle nature of the building and how this list, which may to some read as misgivings, encapsulates the appeal of the environs for punks. Here I argue that the people living in the space of the charmingly dilapidated Canterbury were not coequal; rather, the punks mobilized standard narratives of race, poverty, and sexual difference as a means to support their own stories of resistant subjectivity. The heterogeneous population of ‘‘druggies, alkies, punks and cockroaches,’’ as well as the ‘‘poor minorities and pink-haired freaks,’’ at the Canterbury produced intimate forms of racial and economic negotiation and authenticity for some of the most influential scene makers. Reportedly, ‘‘[b]y February [1977], members of the Screamers, Germs, Extremes, Weirdos, Bags, Deadbeats and members of the Plungers’ disbanded commune’’ along with future members of the Go-Go’s lived and rehearsed at the Canterbury.33 The punks who lived and visited the Canterbury were themselves by no means a homogenous group: contained within their ranks were immigrants, men, women, queers, people of color, people from money, and working-class folks.34 Punks, however, were not the only ones in the 89-unit building. As a testament to the power of economic restructuring and post-war immigration, Southeast Asian refugees, South American immigrants, and poor blacks also filled rooms at the quintessentially punk Canterbury Apartments.35 In a manner reminiscent of an urban travelogue, The Go-Go’s bassist Margot Olaverra recounts: The Canterbury was this classic old Hollywood apartment building, but it was so rundown. It was a haven for underclass marginals, especially punk rockers like myself with no regular income. It had a real big hallway with staircases going on both sides, and these rickety elevators that smelled of mildew and petrified soggy mattresses and this red carpet that wasn’t shag and wasn’t flat, in between – perfect to capture dust and dirt. There were Vietnamese refugees living there and you could smell the rice cooking all the time. This crazy girl from Detroit named Sheila was in there, too. Hellin had an


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apartment there. Alice and Nickey Beat had an apartment there. Belinda lived with Lorna Doom from the Germs. Darby used to hang out there all the time.36

Likewise, Craig Lee, a journalist and guitarist for The Bags described the Canterbury’s ‘‘three stories of faded gradeur . . . occupied by black pimps and drug dealers, displaced Southeast Asians living ten to a room, Chicano families, bikers from a halfway house, in addition to various bag ladies and shopping cart men.’’37 Elsewhere he notes that the ‘‘hallways smelled of piss.’’38 Olaverra describes the economic status of punks through the ragged conditions of their living space – ‘‘rickety elevators,’’ ‘‘mildew,’’ ‘‘soggy mattresses’’ – but also in terms of those with whom they shared that space, including the ‘‘Vietnamese refugees.’’ Lee also marks poverty through the conditions of the space, calling it a ‘‘dive’’ and highlighting the urine-soaked hallways.39 The Vietnamese inhabitants of the Canterbury are marked as racial and national others that in these accounts signify the authenticity of the punks’ experience of poverty, enhanced also by rickety elevators, mildew, or soggy mattresses. While the punk inhabitants mentioned in the quote above were also queer, people of color, and immigrants with queer Chicana Alice Bag, Chilean Margot Olaverra, and queer punk Craig Lee in the mix of the space, the Southeast Asians, the ‘‘black pimps and drug dealers’’ and ‘‘Chicano families’’ hold positions outside of the punk scene. They are bodies against which the punk scene was (and still is) measured, rendered credible, and authenticated. As a mode of delineating the difference between inhabitants of the same building, the aestheticization of racialized poverty becomes the marker that makes resistant subjectivity. Importantly, the performance of punk occurred as an aftereffect of the US wars in Southeast Asia, where the restructuring of the wartime economy and concentration of wealth outside the city’s core, facilitated the movement and assemblage of people of color in Hollywood and South Los Angeles, as well as the presence of the war’s refugee population. These circumstances marked the spaces of punk production. But living with punks did not figure non-punks as resistant for inhabiting those spaces. These refugees did not replicate the feelings that Jeffrey Lee Pierce held regarding ‘‘Charley in the bush,’’ fighting the US military state; rather, they become the silent background for punk stories, marking the space as outside the bounds of white middle-class comfort and respectability. Notably, then, the boundary breaking associated with punk vanguardism depends upon conservative discourses of aberrational formations of race, gender, sexuality, and nation – otherwise presumed to be the province of non-punks – in order to construe punk deviance as resistant subjectivity. Outsider qualities assigned to punk sexuality in the space of the Canterbury also tell stories of resistance through proximity to racialized and working-class bodies. The authenticity of punk, its definition through poverty and excess, followed narratives of gendered and sexual danger and adventuresomeness. Runaways manager, concert promoter, composer, and all-around Hollywood scenester Kim Fowley, in his ever-colorful way of glorifying poverty, philosophizes: The scene at the Masque and the Canterbury got into a lot of decadence and debauchery, and all of the fucking and sucking, and the heroin and the dog fucking and obese shit-assing with the Go-Go’s and their early circle. Somewhere in the vomit, the


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blood, and the vaginal pus, somewhere among the filthy hypo syringes and the blubber, there probably was poetry. Scene cheerleaders got to have their scabied cunts eaten on dirty roach-infested floors while this loopy music raged and the worms crawled, you know? It was excremental existential sexual shit at death’s door.40

Fowley’s provocative account of the space of the Canterbury focuses much more on a class-based reading of poverty and sexual liberation. The Canterbury, marked through poverty and racialization, unleashed the seedy, decadent side of sexuality that punk permitted and in which it found inspiration (the ‘‘poetry’’ of filth). Fowley fantasizes and conjectures, in what seems to be a dig at former high-school cheerleader Belinda Carlisle, that punk and punk spaces allowed women sexual adventures not available to them outside the rarified but raw space of punk. Part of this figuration of sexual outsiderness flows from the aberrant sexualization of race and poverty that helped define the space of the Canterbury. As George Lipsitz reminds us: ‘‘The racial projects of US society have always been spatial projects as well.’’41 Part of the everyday performance of punk, then, instantiated spatialized identity. One of the recurrent ways for making sense of Los Angeles punk, and particularly the valuing of authentic punk vs. fake punk poseurs, comes from the spatial narrative of Hollywood vs. the suburbs, and particularly Hollywood vs. the San Fernando Valley (unlike that other racialized story of Hollywood punks vs. East Los Angeles punks, whose story has only more recently begun to be told). This narrative, in itself, already assumes the racialization of city space (which is backed by residential data, but disturbed by the fluidity of life in a ‘‘car culture’’ such as Los Angeles). For punks in Hollywood, the racial narrative relied upon instantiating the aberrational qualities of life in the heart of the city, namely the sexualization of race and racial proximity; in Fowley’s quote this becomes a diseaseridden rendering of sexual activity. Interestingly, too, Fowley (and in the Go-Go’s musical take that follows) confirms a necropolitical mode of resistance, where the assumption that the racialization of the space of the Canterbury might bring one closer to death, but that in choosing this path, the punks could conjure their own subjectivity by resisting the modes of life making that could be viewed as deadening (white middle-class suburban life, life without art, consumer culture, etc.). That is, if we think of necropolitics as related to how systems of power and governance determine ‘‘who may live and who must die,’’ punks resist these statist determinations by imagining a move closer to death as a way to live.42 Elsewhere, punk’s resistant subjectivity was narrated through discourses of queerness. While attending a Screamers show, Chevy Chase infamously asked: ‘‘Is gay punk?’’43 Of course, in the instance of Screamers (Canterbury residents themselves), it is, but Chase’s sardonic comment also betrays the sense that the outsider quality of punk subjectivity relied, at least in part, upon queer affect.44 Punk thus became the scene of the nonheteronormative, in both Fowley’s and Chase’s accounts written as, perhaps failed, forms of rebellion. As Judith Halberstam notes, however, this failure might be reveled in by punks as an instance of turning away from ‘‘a desire for oddly normative markers of success and achievement.’’45 Here this kind of ‘‘fantastic failure’’ promotes itself through queerness and sexuality marked through proximity to racial and economic others.46 This form of punk failure, then, rejects the heteronormative by mobilizing and reiterating stable markers of race,


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nation, and poverty as aberrational formations, what Roderick Ferguson might call ‘‘normative compromises’’ that help ‘‘produce the normative itineraries of advanced capitalist and postcolonial sites.’’47 Screamers’ live performances, considered in relationship to the postcolonial, can be read as producing a type of outsider sexuality based in relationship to wars abroad. According to Cherie the Penguin, who in introducing Screamers shows, for example, ranted, ‘‘Cambodia was never this fun!’’48 Though meant as a taunt to audience members, this statement also displays a particular connection between a punk queerness (perhaps as a terror like war) and war itself. As a metaphor, this introduction forwards war as simultaneously distant (through the announcer’s sarcasm) and intimate (present in the bands’ performance), and, in that connection, Screamers are rendered as outsiders to a version of the national narrative through simultaneous dissociation and proximity. Likewise, if we imagine the Canterbury Apartments, with its heterogeneous population, as a postcolonial site of sorts, in that it holds refugees from US wars abroad, then we also access a reading of sexuality in the Canterbury and the L.A. punk scene in general that collocates the aberrational qualities often assigned to race (its queering through feminization) and those extant sexualities of empire such as the queering of bodies and also the assumed sexual availability and excess of bodies imagined through empire.49 Thus, the nonnormative aspects of sexuality narrated through stories of the Canterbury and its inhabitants reiterate what is non-normative about racial and imperial bodies in order to create modes of resistance. The specific convergence of race, gender, sexual, and national discourses that guided descriptions of the Canterbury Apartments was also evident in an early song from the Go-Go’s, variously known as ‘‘Luxury Living’’ or ‘‘Living at the Canterbury.’’50 A number of The members of The Go-Go’s counted themselves part of the Los Angeles punk scene, and resided and rehearsed in the basement of the Canterbury Apartments. This is how The Go-Go’s describe their own ‘‘shit-assing’’: Okay living in the city Whores outside a-posing Traffic noise a lullaby Skyscrapers better than blue skies We can do what we want We can say what we please We can be who we want Being poor’s okay by me Proud I don’t have no T.V.51

The vocals, pitched at a near scream throughout, communicate defiance, and the quick tempo, sloppy beat, and stark arrangement of major chords challenge listeners to keep up with the pace of the city, and speak to the disorienting feel and hard nature of their adopted neighborhood. The romanticization of poverty and resistance to commercial ‘‘conventional’’ culture that go hand in hand in descriptions of the Canterbury speak to a call to authenticity built on particularly urban proximity to racial and sexual others and a desire to describe the scene within the language of democratization and deviance. Because the space of the city in general, and the space of the Canterbury in particular, evoke people of color, immigrants, and difficult circumstances arising from


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poverty, The Go-Go’s lyrics call upon those ideological affinities to sing about illicit sex work, which seems to happen steps away, to mark the space simultaneously as dangerous and deviant, outside the bounds of normativity. The rebellious breaking bounds of sexual normativity, though, again only makes sense through the implicit connection of non-normativity with race and poverty. Living in spaces like the Canterbury provided grounds for racial, gendered, and sexualized tension and violence at the same time it offered a language for resistant subjectivities. While seen through dirty, cracked, and yet rose-tinted, lenses, the Canterbury harbored a multiplicity of people living together; however, violence marked these new intimacies. The space both allowed for diverse populations to congregate and rendered the people within that space vulnerable – many rapes were reported to have taken place there, for example, as did forms of racial violence.52 In a seeming contradiction, the longed-for heterogeneity both produced punk rebellion and provided opportunities to express racial discomfort. In the autumn of 1978, punks wearing swastikas began to move into the Canterbury. Many of the punks present in the apartment building actively fought against the wearing of Nazi symbols, a moment of alliance with the non-punk neighbors. Alice Bag, Canterbury resident and lead singer of The Bags, notes that she and many of her friends made t-shirts that read ‘‘Die, Nazi Scum!’’ and would shout the same from their apartment windows in response to the folks who moved in wearing swastikas that Fall.53 Bag is notably one of the few punks to recollect the Canterbury without the hazy exoticism that marks others’ memories. Regarding her move into the complex, she argues: ‘‘Punks who grew up in different areas of L.A. might have seen the Canterbury as a dangerous, run-down, vermin-infested flophouse, but you have to remember that I had grown up in a dangerous, run-down, vermin-infested neighborhood, so it’s all a matter of perspective. For some this was truly slumming, but it wasn’t too far from where I’d grown up.’’54 With this attitude that contrasts so strikingly from other recollections, it is less surprising to see Bag as someone who could ally herself with a racial and anti-fascist politics that might accord with her new neighbors’ position. In Bag’s memory, because of the peer pressure, punks in the complex stopped wearing swastikas. This notable moment of direct political action, however, was only one of the responses to the coming of these swastika-sporting residents. Though Bag’s is a story told about some punks posing a successful challenge to other punks’ politics, still other folks in the building were affected by these new swastika-wearing residents. Considered within the circumscribed world of punk, and not necessarily including others who shared those punk spaces, like the non-punk people of color who resided at the Canterbury, the problem seemed solved. In taking into account those residents in their proximity (also, recall, this proximity marked punk as authentic), racial analysis of such a clash becomes more complex. Other players come into view in a report in the regular ‘‘Local Shit’’ column in L.A. punk’s most prestigious magazine Slash, for example, which reported on a series of related incidents in September 1978: Jewish-hippies clanned up against so-called ignorant-NaziYouth Party-junkies. The graffiti battle (swastikas, Stars of David, Die DeeDee, 414¼resthome) marked the entire hotel up and many people got in trouble and are moving out.


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Racial tension is also about to snap at the place. Evidently, the influx of Masque-proven new and improved punk rockers have yet to realize that black is beautiful. Shouts of ‘‘nigger’’ and flying spit were the order of the day. The heartwarming results were a Negro man running around in nothing but bikini briefs and a gun. Also a pan of boiling soup was thrown on one girls [sic] white body and, by black magic, room 304 was instantly evicted. All vacant apartments are being filled with Afros as the Rev is fed up with ‘‘punk rocks,’’ as he calls them.55

This report from the Canterbury both demonstrates the diversity of the space and responses to that diversity. On one hand, descriptions of the Canterbury use heterogeneity and poverty as badges of honor. On the other, that heterogeneity was negotiated through a number of means. Here, punks can be seen as communicating with one another about their racial politics; however, the space of that communication was being shared by immigrants of color, African Americans, and Southeast Asian refugees. Within this context, then, the racial politics of punk can be seen to exceed the scene of punk. Aren’t the punks, then, also communicating with their new neighbors? Evidence of the tensions spilling out of the scene is provided by ‘‘the Reverend,’’ a Jamaican Rastafarian immigrant who worked as the building manager.56 According to Slash, the Reverend started throwing punks out of the building when these incidents began. Collocated with racial and national others, these punks, acting through state-sanctioned politics of racial and class devaluation, established themselves and their ability to ‘‘do what we want,’’ ‘‘say what we please,’’ and ‘‘be who we want’’ through the language of racialized violence. The column provides an ambivalent reading of this violence where the punks are called out for their racial epithets, but are sympathized with for being kicked out of their digs. This ambivalent structure follows from the contradictions inherent to liberal capitalism that poses democratization (here access to the same spaces), but allows for differential valuation of various bodies.57 In the stories punks tell about living at the Canterbury, there is often a fair amount of sympathy that goes into the recollection of the non-punk neighbors. The structure of that sympathy, as a resistant position, though exactly excludes those neighbors from sharing in the kind of subject position written for the punks. To borrow Traber’s notion of the ‘‘sub-urban,’’ again, punk resistance to ‘‘master narratives,’’ here perhaps a suburban life of consumerism, residential segregation, respectable sexuality, and the strictures of Cold War gender roles, is writ against the non-punk bodies that inhabited the Canterbury. While Traber focuses his attention on the creation of punk subjectivity, in building on his insights, I want to add two points: first, that in order for the punks to embrace society’s pathologies, they must reiterate the pathologizations of race, poverty, and extra-national bodies, and, second, that this rendering of resistance precludes the possibility of these non-punk neighbors from being resistant themselves, even as they share the same intimate residential spaces because they are already presumed to be excluded from the American Dream that the others imagine themselves as choosing to resist. In short the new neighbors were not attributed with the ‘‘attitudes, values, desires or work ethics that would have ever enabled [them] to have . . . decent paying jobs’’ and live in a ‘‘nice suburban neighborhood,’’ the markers of the ‘‘American Dream,’’ to recontextualize an argument made by Lisa Marie Cacho.58 Because they are


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presumed by so many not to have access to the kind of consumerism and gendered and sexual respectability that others might choose to leave behind, they do not have to resist these things. They cannot resist them because they cannot have them, if we continue to follow this logic of pathologization. Even as punks may have imagined themselves as allies, their political motivations may only have occasionally overlapped with the issues faced by their neighbors, such as the racism that the wearing of swastikas signaled. More often, however, in embracing the collocated if not coequal lives of their neighbors, punks named their new neighbors as symbols reflecting a life rejected. So, rather than assume the roles of allies, uniform in living circumstances, the non-punk poor, people of color, immigrants, and refugees served as allegories of dispossession and a life away from the American Dream.59 Perhaps because the non-punks in the building did not have the same set of institutionalized choices, they were not read as resistant by the punks. Even as the production of space provides the logic for these arguments of punk authenticity and resistance, and, thus, imagining the political premise of punk as a democratic practice, it also reifies the meanings of these spaces, reinvesting in the strange permanence of these visibly contested boundaries of race, class, and sexuality. Living amongst the racialized people with whom the punks sympathized with politically, was also ‘‘scary,’’ according to the Go-Go’s guitarist, Jane Wiedlin, because of the threat of violence posed by the people of color who cohabited the complex.60 Unlike some of the other inhabitants, the punks were seemingly able to take Valley resident Tom Petty’s advice, realizing that they didn’t have to live like refugees.61 The punks cleared out of the Canterbury in 1979.

On riots and resistance The lore of Los Angeles punk includes a number of stories about rioting. ‘‘The St. Patrick Day’s Massacre’’ of March 1978 is probably the most re-told of these stories. A punk show at the Elks Lodge overlooking MacArthur Park turned violent when the Los Angeles Police Department’s Special Weapons and Tactics team showed up to clear the building while the Plugz were playing on a multi-racial bill that included The Alley Cats, The Zeros, The Go-Go’s, and X.62 Attendance at this event became another badge of honor for L.A. punks who had their outsider status galvanized through police violence.63 The S.W.A.T. team itself embodied the connection between the war in Viet Nam and policing at home. As a para-military unit born in the Vietnam era, S.W.A.T. used tactics created to fight wars abroad in order to fight new wars at home against the racialized populations marked through gangs and drugs as well as others marked as deviant. As the chief of the D.A.’s Hardcore Drug Unit noted: ‘‘This is Vietnam here.’’64 While Police Chief Daryl Gates’ lawenforcement policies mainly targeted men of color, punks would also feel the disciplining tactics of the police. As journalist Don Snowden recollects, the police presence that first made itself felt at the St. Patrick’s Day Massacre turned large-scale punk gigs at Santa Monica Civic or the Hollywood Palladium into veritable war zones and club dates at the Cathay de Grande – and probably dozens of others I never heard about – into running battles.65


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The attitude of the police and the city help to create the imperial logic that guided policing in the city, making it plausible that a punk of color like Jeffrey Lee Pierce, quoted above, would compare punks to the Viet Cong. With all the police and media attention focused on the evils of the punk life, clearly the public presence of punk upset more than a few people in its self-presentation against authority, the state, and middle-class values. Again, though, taken in the wider context of race, nation, gender, and sexuality within the city, the limits to punk’s political resistance can be understood as being drawn through the reiteration of particular narratives of racial, national, and gendered devaluation, which pitted punks against some of the most vulnerable populations of non-punks in the L.A. area. Indeed, this section will not rehearse the St. Patrick Day’s Massacre; rather, stories of another riot that took place at Madame Wong’s, a Chinese restaurant turned punk venue in Chinatown, take center stage here. Because violence perpetrated by or against punks is often viewed as resistance, and because that violence is further viewed as a catalyst for community making (a drawing of the lines for who is punk and who is not), scenes of riot provide another entry point into thinking through the complexities of subject making on the punk scene. Part of my interest in the Madame Wong’s riot lies in how ambivalent the staging of violence is in this instance: punks felt self-righteously galvanized, but nothing in particular seems to have set off the violence that damaged the restaurant. The violence that occurred in Chinatown the night of 8 November 1978 speaks to the multiple strategies that punks used in creating themselves as subjects within a heterogeneous city. Even as the punks at the show were representative of a racial, gender, and sexual cross-section of the city, the language used to describe the event in retrospect shows some underlying tensions and a desire, by some, to reiterate forms of heteropatriarchy. Further, because the spaces of punk nightlife were shared by the same sort of folks who inhabited the Canterbury, namely the poor, immigrants, refugees, and people of color, their presence could also naturalize the devaluation of these spaces by punks out for a night of entertainment. As in the example provided by the Canterbury Apartments, this riot stages resistance of the self over the other as a form of subject making. The Madame Wong’s riot begs the question that if punks were like the Viet Cong when confronted by police, as Jeffrey Lee Pierce had it, who would be imagined as Viet Cong in the space of Chinatown? Chinatown was a space that was already narrated through bodies affected by war and war metaphors. Racially over-determined, Chinatown housed the largest Vietnamese refugee populations gathered in Los Angeles County.66 So, like the Canterbury Apartments, Chinatown became another contact zone for punks to encounter non-punk people of color, immigrants, and Southeast Asian refugees. Establishing connections between Asian wars abroad and the Asian American populace at home, a flyer for a show at the Hong Kong Cafe´ featuring Human Hands, the Last, and ‘‘someone else too!’’ displayed graphics that morbidly recalled the war in Viet Nam with two skeletons dressed as soldiers bearing the names of band members (see Figure 1).67 Adjacent to the soldiers marches a hare wearing a helmet and carrying a bayonetted rifle. To help mark the space of war, the hare also features exaggerated buckteeth, an old orientalist device. The flyer marks out the


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Figure 1. Human Hands flyer.

space of Chinatown, which would host the show, through the advance of punk soldiers into the Hong Kong Cafe´. Likewise, a Los Angeles Times headline from 1979 drew connections between racialized domestic space and war zones by describing punks as engaging in a ‘‘skirmish’’ in Chinatown.68 The article, like the flyer, imposes the symbols of imperial war upon a domestic space, marked through racialized and refugee bodies, narrating Chinatown as a space available for war and violence. Later dubbed the ‘‘Chinatown Punk Wars’’ or sometimes the ‘‘Won Ton Wars,’’ the conflict reportedly involved the rivalry of two restaurants that faced each other over a courtyard: Madame Wong’s and the Hong Kong Cafe´, both of which started booking punk bands in an attempt to increase business.69 While the story seems to be a war between the restaurants, the actual violence that erupted at Madame Wong’s (an altercation that seemingly haunts the Human Hands flyer) was not caused by the proprietors of the Hong Kong Cafe´, but by punks who attended a concert featuring two female-fronted bands – The Bags and X – on November 8, 1978. The stories that are told about the punk space of Chinatown usually provide justification for the violence that occurred at the riot. This incident, along with a girl fight on another night and presided over from the stage by The Alley Cats’ Dianne Chai, were believed to be tipping points for Esther Wong, who decided then that thrashing punk caused more trouble than it was worth, and wanted to book bands that played at slower tempos.70 It was widely understood on the scene that Wong


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believed female-fronted bands brought the most trouble to her doorstep because the two bands on the bill that night featured women singers: an idea reinforced by that other recent fight while punker Chai played bass and sang. Both of these responses to irrational violence marked Esther Wong, in the eyes of punks, as irrational and illiberal.71 This logic occurs most often through two different stories: first, that because Madame Wong’s booked more commercial bands (read: new wave) than the Hong Kong Cafe´, she was not truly supporting the anti-corporate elements of the scene, and, second, that because she developed a policy of not booking femalefronted bands, she was sexist.72 The first story is a demonstration of punk’s abhorrence of corporate culture and the kind of deadening, synthetic music that it produces. The second story means to demonstrate that punk is a liberal democratic movement that supports women, and no doubt the dangerous and aggressive performances of femininity that occurred on punk stages threatened a gendered order, making those women particularly susceptible to criticism and backlash. These stories, by design, create modes of punk subjectivity resistant to capitalism and oppression; however, they also hide the ways in which punks reiterated structures of power based in gender, race, nation, and war because the target of their resistance became a Chinese immigrant woman rather than the structures of capital or the institutions that create gender inequalities. They targeted someone impacted by the same systems. So, instead of resisting the structures that they claim to loathe, the punks, here, end up reproducing the power structure and investing in the differential valuation of racialized space. Investigating the modes through which stories of Madame Wong’s are told provides clues as to the limits of punk’s self-narration as resistant. Not all stories told about the Chinatown punk scene mention the riot; rather, the stories focus on the differences and tensions between Madame Wong’s and the Hong Kong Cafe´. The form of these critiques covers over the ways in which racial, national, and sexual discourses also justified the violence that was perpetrated in the restaurant. To exacerbate the supposed tension between the clubs, Esther Wong, the proprietor of Madame Wong’s, reportedly said she would not book bands that played the Hong Kong Cafe´, and the two clubs became the grounds for acting out punk’s anti-corporate stance. Madame Wong’s, which had booked bands like X, The Bags, The Alley Cats, The Germs, and The Plugz, changed its policy after a particularly violent and disastrous show (the riot that will be discussed below) and reportedly became a haven for skinny-tie-wearing new wavers. The Hong Kong Cafe´ picked up the now-banned punk bands, constructing a sense of conflicting sides and clashing philosophies. Masque proprietor Brendan Mullen describes the tensions and differences assigned to the two restaurants: ‘‘Thus the punk rock which-side-are-you-on dichotomy was even more intensified: Are you punk (self-taught, self-contained DIY) or new wave (musically comprised of shitty theoretical pop songs drenched with three-part harmony la-la’s supported by majorlabel hype)?’’73 In this scenario there is a strong moral and political impetus to support the Hong Kong Cafe´ over Madame Wong’s. The dialogue concerning corporate rock also presupposes a notion of creative agency that can only happen outside of the culture industry. Punk is fashioned as a place where individuality can


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be cultivated, or unfettered, as opposed to the repetitive indoctrination assumed to be the product of corporations. The individualism of punk, then, served as a marker of subjectivity granted only to those outside structures of capital. The space of Chinatown, divided by a courtyard, demarcated pro- and anti-corporate ideologies. According to this logic, if one were to support Madame Wong’s, then one would not be as resistant as one who would attend shows at the Hong Kong Cafe´. The space of Chinatown became a place to negotiate the meanings of punk (D.I.Y.; authentic) vs. new wave (corporate; manufactured), but the conversation that linked and de-linked the two clubs also spoke to how economic restructuring made modes of resistance in punk possible. If part of punk’s politics was to reconfigure space, making a place for these cultural producers in relationship to the entertainment industry and the state, then shifts in the economy and social services that rendered some populations vulnerable became the grounds for where punk could make this intervention, even as the populations that co-existed with the punks remained vulnerable, even to the punks. Remembrances of that infamous show reflect various viewpoints. Narrated in hindsight as justified, the violence that occurred that day tells a complex story of the logic that helped punks to negotiate the heterogeneous spaces of the city. Alice Bag, the lead singer of The Bags, the band that was playing that night at Wong’s when the violence broke out, recounts: ‘‘It turned out to be a show that would get female musicians 86’d from Madame Wong’s. The Bags and X were on the bill, and our audience had been particularly frisky. . . . The club sustained damage, and Billy Zoom’s guitar got stolen. After that night, Madame Wong decided that bands with girls in them meant trouble, and she refused to book them.’’74 Here, Bag is more careful than most punk commentators about the reason for the riot; she does not reiterate the narrative of race that others do, perhaps because this was already the third mini-riot that occurred while The Bags were on a bill.75 The number of riots inspired by the Bags may have been the performative effect of Alice’s energy in destroying cliche´s of gendered performance. Watching Alice Bag prowl the stage and growl out lyrics was visceral. As she swaggered with mic in hand, yell-singing, she embodied dissent. Her tough and oppositional performances certainly spoke to a reimagining of gendered and racialized power.76 So, it is not a surprise, then, that in her recollection Bag points to the peculiar policy that followed the riot specifically naming bands with female members as being banned from the restaurant’s stage. It is likely that Madame Wong’s idea that female-fronted bands were trouble is very much connected to these kinds of boundary-pushing performances. The trade here, though, in narrating punk’s feminist intervention, is that it is offered in contradistinction to the imagined illiberalism of the immigrant woman of color. While Bag’s recollection works against racist and sexist modes, it still supports a narrative where the punishment does not fit the crime, and through which Esther Wong is marked as illiberal in her sexist policy. Others mobilize this logic to narrate the new gender- and genre-based-booking policy as related specifically to race. The connection of a gendered critique of Esther Wong with a racialized reading of both her and the space of the restaurant, have helped to produce justifications for the violence that occurred prior to the policy.


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Masque booker Mullen, for instance, re-tells the story as one about violence deserved:

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The Bags’ crowd trashed another club – most thought deservedly – Madame Wong’s in Chinatown later in ’78, thus getting their band and all other punk bands personally 86ed by the storied Dragon Lady herself, who famously launched an estro-cleansing operation targeting bands with rabble rousin’ scrapper gals such as the Bags and X (who co-starred Exene) and the Alleycats (co-starring Dianne Chai), but not Martha Davis of the Motels.77

Here, the evidence for those that deserve violence is multiply articulated. First, the racialized site of Chinatown becomes synonymous with deserved violence. Second, the old orientalist marker ‘‘the Dragon Lady,’’ a name by which many called Esther Wong, marks the restaurant’s proprietor as irrational and willful in ways that both exceed her race and gender, and are because of her race and gender. Third, the proof of her irrationality is exemplified through her banning of women. Lastly, her irrationality takes the form of supporting commercial capital by booking new-wave bands rather than punk bands (the new wave associated with the female-fronted Motels instead of punk bands). The nexus of these rationales, then, justifies racialized violence: Esther Wong marked as undeserving through racial and gendered tropes of irrationality and illiberalism. Others saw the event as galvanizing for the punk scene, but this coming together would happen at more than the expense of just Madame Wong. In a show review, journalist Al Flipside raved: ‘‘This night was real interesting because it was one of these rare times when you felt a part of some ’scene’ all the kids were moving towards one goal, trash this place!’’ He further wonders, But what can we attack? A few clubs every now and then, and only when we feel the need, shit just shit. We should listen to what people like the Dils say let’s aim our attacks at the rich! Great idea but who is doing it? Nobody, need better targets, attack anything you don’t like, if you don’t like what somebody sells, like all those rich faggot art people in Stuff – make it known! Write on their windows, spit, give it a hard time. But you like those assholes ok, then throw paint on ads for John Travolta or Gay Magazines, do anything, and claim it for punks. In LA the police don’t even recognize punks. As potential trouble makers, we at least deserve that recognition! React to things! If they can advertise, you have the right to deface it.78

Here we see a problem of access that has been created through the production of space in the city. The rich people that Flipside sees as deserving attack escape the plot of his unfocused politics; instead, other targets emerge to take their place, targets that share the same space as the punk kids. So, yes, Madame Wong’s is the first casualty – immigrants and immigrant businesses are easy to attack, especially if they invite you in. (This scene would later be repeated at the Vex, a predominately Chicano art space in East Los Angeles).79 The burgeoning queer scene that inhabits Silver Lake, another dispossessed neighborhood just east of Hollywood and north of Chinatown, provides another space for punk defiance. The reference to John Travolta points to the disco scene, a signifier for commercial music, but also for queers and people of color. The people and spaces singled out by Flipside are pathologized through markers of race, gender, and sexuality. He calls upon the L.A.P.D. to come and discipline the punks, to recognize them as a threat to


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the social order, but with the Madame Wong’s riot and his other imagined examples of violence deserved, the punks are already policing immigrants, queers, people of color and refugees, disciplining projects aligned with the work of the state. The political violence that Al Flipside suggests is a rupture that is not a rupture. That is to say, acts of violence and destruction in and of themselves do not speak simply of rebellion, but also the policing of other communities dispossessed by the economic restructuring of the area in the shadow of war. While he imagines these as acts of spatial reclamation for punks in the city – defacing advertisements as a ‘‘right’’ to own space and your personhood within that space – he does not consider as carefully who benefits and who does not benefit from such acts. In the immediate rendering, these acts of violence produce a noble subjectivity for punks. Acting within the dictates of the state that thrives on the differential valuation of people of color and queers, Flipside wonders why the police are not intervening. This is tantamount to asking for a re-match of the St. Patrick’s Day Massacre that opened the section, another galvanizing event for the righteousness of punk’s resistant self-narrative. The hailing of the police as a particular kind of enemy to the scene, then, helps to produce punk subjectivity as resistant. The lack of police response, here, signals the limits to that imagined resistant identity formation. The war at home and the ends of resistance In Politics of culture in the shadow of capital, Lisa Lowe and David Lloyd argue: Civil society must be reshaped to produce subjects who might function in terms of modern definitions of social spaces, as the political subject of the state, the economic subject of capitalism, and the cultural subject of the nation, however much the discreteness of these spaces is contradicted by conditions that are lived as racialized and gendered labor stratification, apartheid, and poverty.80

Here, Lowe and Lloyd elucidate the multiple sites of subject formation (the state, capital, the nation) and their multiple modes (political, economic, cultural). For the purposes of this article, I focus on aesthetic production occurring both within the space of Los Angeles and within systems of imperialism (the growth of the state and the nation), global capital, and systems of policing that can simultaneously regulate and provide a logic for rebellion against ‘‘stratification, apartheid, and poverty.’’ That is to say that in late 1970s Los Angeles, the negotiation of racial, gendered, and sexual identities, the creation of a modernist version of subjectivity, the restructuring of capital in the region and globally, and the establishment of modern policing and incarceration techniques, happen simultaneously with the production of punk. As punk’s performances exceeded the stages and studios of music production, spilling over into apartment buildings, restaurants, abandoned mansions, and cemeteries, conflicts over space abounded. Multiracial and sexually heterogeneous proximity and intimacy called upon punks to negotiate their identities by imagining themselves as racial and national others in order to perform resistant subjectivity, by claiming proximity as a means to decry middle-class mores bound up in narratives of respectability tied to race, class, gender, and sexuality, and by raging against those


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same immigrants, people of color, and queers as a show of punk solidarity against corporate culture. These vexed formations of identity fought against forms of institutional oppression while simultaneously reinstantiating some of those same norms that pathologized those marked as racial, national, and sexual others. This structure for resistance, then, predicts its own political limits and supports a contest amongst the most vulnerable segments of the population for fleeting access to the rights of the state. As punks were making their way through these spaces, the L.A.P.D. took cues from war making. With a police force that included a number of Vietnam veterans, they pushed increasingly militaristic strategies for policing domestic city space.81 Punks, who inhabited neighborhoods with the poor, the racialized, and those marked as sexually aberrant, often got caught up in the midst of police surveillance and disciplining. Heterogeneous punk scenes aroused suspicion from the city, journalists, and television media who told stories of out-of-control and rebellious youth. The move to inhabit public spaces that were designated by law, decreasing social services, and racial segregation to be essentially abandoned, sometimes challenged and sometimes reinforced the divisions that pervaded these spaces. And, the stakes were high: as the L.A.P.D. perfected its paramilitary S.W.A.T. team, the prison-industrial complex in California began to change gears, beginning the incarceration of huge swaths of the population, particularly focusing on Black and Latino men marked through discourses of war.82 Heterogeneous punk spaces – racially mixed, sexually aberrant, and gender deviant – were already marked for surveillance. Even as punk utilized imperial logics to reiterate some types of differential valuation, providing the limits to the meanings of this form of rebellion, the effects of reimagining, rewriting, and re-composing the meanings of public space also produced troubled versions of youth subjectivity through which punks negotiated heterogeneous communities and spaces by mobilizing a number of strategies. Punks themselves were multi-faceted, having complex responses even to actions that were seen as galvanizing for the scene. The effects of the variety of thought produced on the scene speaks less to the absolute resistant nature of punk subjectivity than to the need to understand the complexities of resistant narratives that can challenge the bounds of spatial politics, but can simultaneously re-create the modes of state surveillance and violence, effects that speak to the lingering domestic effects of US imperialism abroad. Acknowledgements ‘‘Living at the Canterbury,’’ words and music by Jane Wiedlin. Copyright ! 1995 by Universal Music – MGB Songs. International copyright secured and all rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Hal Leonard Corporation. The author would like to thank the organizers of ‘‘The Message is in the Music: Hip Hop Feminism, Riot Grrrl, Latina Music, and More’’ at Sarah Lawrence College for inspiring the first version of this article; my anonymous reviewers for their insightful guidance; the editorial board of Women & Performance for their insights and support; Jeremy and Ian Brigstocke for letting me listen to their records; the inspiring Lisa Cacho for reading early drafts and offering the wisdom to help me pull it all together; the brilliant Ruth Nicole Brown for trying not to talk to me over computers and coffee; the unflappable Soo Ah Kwon for staring at me while I worked and otherwise encouraging my finishing of this piece with her generosity and always good advice;


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the super awesome Elizabeth Stinson for encouraging when others may have discouraged and for reading draft after draft after draft after draft; and Mimi Nguyen for sharing her genius, and for being a steadfast supporter, a careful commenter, and the best one I know.

Notes on contributor

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Fiona I.B. Ngoˆ is an Assistant Professor in Asian American Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Ngoˆ’s scholarship concerns the remains of war and empire in spaces of culture. Imperial blues, a book manuscript (forthcoming Duke University Press), expands upon analytics of urban space in order to understand the effects of imperialism on Jazz Age culture and its traffic in racialized and sexualized bodies.

Notes 1. Graham (1977). 2. ‘‘By the early 1980s,’’ Juan Gonzalez notes, ‘‘Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua were all engulfed in wars for which our own government [the United States] bore much responsibility.’’ Gonzalez also notes that many of the indigenous troops were trained at the US Army’s School of the Americas in Panama during the early 1980s. Arms deals of the period came to the unflattering light during the Iran-Contra Affair. See Gonzalez (2000, 132, 138). 3. Hebdige (1979, 30–45); Gilroy (1987, 120–30); Habell-Palla´n (2005, 147–80); Nguyen (2012a, 217–23); and Nikpour (2012). 4. Ngoˆ (forthcoming). 5. There has been a continuing debate over the meanings of race, for instance, between the Central Hollywood scene and the East L.A. scene that also addresses the heterogeneous population of the city. Former Masque owner turned oral historian Brendan Mullen argues, for example, that the multiraciality of the Hollywood scene would seem to preclude racial revisionist readings of punk since he credits Chicanos as being a big part of his success. In contradistinction, the organizers of the art exhibit, ‘‘Vexing: Female voices of Los Angeles punk,’’ staged at the Claremont Colleges, created the show in order to highlight the marginalized voices of Chicana punks from the East Los Angeles scene. Cultural theorist Josh Kun likewise argues that the Los Angeles River provided a dividing line for Racial difference in geographical terms, where the Hollywood scene was quite separate from the scene at a community center and performance space situated in East Los Angeles called the Vex, incidentally the site of another punk riot in 1980. Alternately, George Lipsitz has argued that the Hollywood scenes and the East Los Angeles scenes existed as a kind of bricolage, where members shared the same stages, musical influences, and, consequently, garnered new ways to create politicized culture across racial and geographic lines. To understand the complexities of racial and other discourses of difference, I think it is important to consider the truth of all these points of view: evidence from the time suggests that multiraciality was not something that was simply about democratization or racism. Brendan Mullen quoted in Agustin Gurza (2008); Kun (2003); Lipsitz (1990, 133–60). See also Habell-Palla´n (2009). 6. ‘‘Forming’’ references both the anguished anti-state rumblings of the Germs’ titular song and the art exhibit, ‘‘Forming: The early days of L.A. punk.’’ 7. Jeffrey Lee Pierce quoted in Spitz and Mullen (2001, 174–5). 8. See recent scholarship such as Rodrı´ guez (2004), Cacho (forthcoming), and Kwon (forthcoming). 9. McKenna (1979a, N73). 10. This song was first released on Yes, LA, a compilation for Dangerhouse Records, then was re-recorded for X’s debut album (X 1979; X 1980).


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11. Indeed, the minor pentatonic scale is most often referred to as the blues scale, but is also prominent in rockabilly. 12. Kittra Allen, who lived with members of X and had dated Billy Zoom, describes FaucetMinor as ‘‘the racist bigot John wrote about in the lyrics to ‘Los Angeles.’’ Allen quoted in Spitz and Mullen (2001, 98). Photographer Jenny Lens reports that Faucet-Minor ‘‘would taunt and torment me, stopping me on the street, standing so close to me, saying, ‘Hitler was right. Jews should be burned . . .’ beyond that, I couldn’t listen’’ (Lens 2004). 13. Mun˜oz (1999, 93–4). 14. Mun˜oz (1999, 93). 15. Soja (1989, 203). 16. See for example Rose (1994, 22); Chang (2005, 13–15); Lipsitz (2007, 154–83). 17. Spheeris (1981). 18. Pierce (1980, 9). 19. Pierce (1980, 9). 20. Pierce (1980, 9). 21. X (1983). 22. Soja (1989, 213). Many engineers also lived along the coast in Los Angeles County, but decidedly few lived in downtown Los Angeles or the areas surrounding downtown. 23. Pierce quoted in Spitz and Mullen (2001, 242). 24. Lipsitz (2007, 120). 25. Ruddick (1996, 99). 26. Ruddick (1996, 100–2). 27. Art and rock critic Kristine McKenna notes that the Cathay de Grande is ‘‘an Oriental restaurant in Hollywood with a little disco/bar tucked downstairs’’ (McKenna 1980, G4). 28. Traber (2007, 115–16). 29. This kind of reading of race, authenticity, resistance, and music scenes has happened regarding other scenes as well. Kelley (1992), for instance makes this claim in reference to the folk revival in, ‘‘Notes on deconstructing ‘the folk.’’’ following an argument by Hall in ‘‘Notes on deconstructing ‘the popular,’’’ where Hall (1981) argues the importance of blackness for popular culture in general. Cantwell provides a book-length study of these connections in the folk revival of the 1950s in When we were good and Eric Lott persuasively makes connections between blackness and various genres of nineteenthcentury US popular culture, from minstrelsy to melodrama, in the classic Love & theft (Cantwell 1996; Lott 1993). 30. Lee (1980, 26). 31. The Canterbury is located at 1746N. Cherokee Ave., a block and a half north of Hollywood Blvd., where the Masque was located. 32. Escovedo (with Phast Phreddie) (1991). 33. Lee (1983, 22). 34. Brendan Mullen writes about the poor and about slumming punks living at the Canterbury: ‘‘Those not secretly kept trustafarians supported themselves from panhandling, dumpster-diving, and turning tricks on and off Hollywood Boulevard’’, in Mullen with Roger Gastman (2007, 32). 35. Felt and Robles (1992, 30). 36. Margot Olaverra quoted in Spitz and Mullen (2001, 167). Hellin Killer was a well-known scenester who later married Paul Roessler of Screamers. Alice Bag sang lead for The Bags, and her then-boyfriend, Nickey Beat, played drums for many outfits, including, most famously The Weirdos. Lorna Doom and punk poet laureate Darby Crash composed half of the legendary Germs. 37. Lee (1983, 22). 38. Lee (1981, 28). 39. Lee (1981, 28). 40. Kim Fowley, quoted in Spitz and Mullen (2001, 171). 41. Lipsitz (2011, 52).


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42. Mbembe (2003, 11). 43. Bessy (1977, 4). 44. Nicole Panter (2005), in an interview with Alice Bag, recollects Screamers’ performances as ‘‘so dark and fun and different. . . . I saw a video of them a couple of years ago and I was struck by how flamingly gay they were.’’ 45. Halberstam (2011, 185–7). 46. ‘‘Fantastic failure’’ is a phrase from Halberstam (2011, 187). 47. Ferguson (2003, 144). 48. Cherie the Penguin quoted in Lee (1983, 21). 49. Additionally, Roderick Ferguson and David Eng note that racialization is sometimes accompanied by feminization, where race also points to an excess in gender. Ferguson (2003, 58–66) and Eng (2001, 1–4). 50. Named ‘‘Luxury living,’’ for instance, by Margot Olaverra in an interview with Craig Lee in 1980, and named ‘‘Living at the Canterbury’’ when released by I.R.S. Records in 1994 (1994a). Olaverra quoted in Lee (1980, 26); The Go-Go’s (The Go-Go’s 1994b). 51. Jane Wiedlin quoted in Felt and Robles (1992, 50). The Go-Go’s (1994b). 52. See Patterson (1997, 26–7); Olaverra quoted in Lee (1980, 27); and Olaverra quoted in Spitz and Mullen (2001, 168). 53. Bag (2011, 290). 54. Bag (2011, 232). 55. Bessy (1978a, 5). 56. Margot Olaverra notes that his name was actually Oliver and his connection to Rastafarianism was suspect. Olaverra quoted in Lee (1980, 26). 57. Chandan Reddy usefully addresses this kind of seeming epistemological contradiction and ‘‘the disorientation many Americans feel when they see supposedly progressive and egalitarian groups willing to share their beds with violent types like the military or the imperial actor’’ (2012, 5). 58. Cacho (2007, 194) notes these phrases in relationship to how men of color’s lives are devalued, to seemingly naturalize and justify their early deaths. 59. Similarly, Barbara Johnson writes about woman as allegory in an argument about the role of women in critical theory. Johnson (1994, 59) argues that: ‘‘As an allegory, the female figure is not a literal representation of a woman as artist or theorist – not a ‘real woman’ – but rather an enabling figure for the production of male artists. ‘Woman’ is thus both that which is not, and that without which there cannot be.’’ For the non-punks that inhabited the Canterbury, personhood remained elusive, while their role as allegory enabled the production of resistant artistry. 60. Jane Wiedlin, quoted in Lee (1980, 27). She notes this in relation to a rape that occurred downstairs from Margot Olaverra, Black Randy’s having written ‘‘Apes Live Here’’ on the doors of the suspected offenders, and two black men aggressively knocking on Carlisle’s door. These other incidents from the same article relayed by Margot Olaverra and Belinda Carlisle. 61. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1979). 62. For more on the riot see Spitz and Mullen (2001, 188–91). 63. Even scholar Dewar MacLeod mentions his presence at this event, I believe as a form of authorizing his scholarship, in the introduction to his Kids of the black hole, 13 (Macleod 2010). 64. Quoted in Davis (1990, 268). Davis also notes ‘‘The ‘them’ – what a local mayor calls ‘the Viet Cong abroad in our society’ – are the members of local Black gangs,’’ as a display of how policing targeted men of color in particular (1990, 268). 65. Snowden (1997, 157). 66. Soja (1989, 218). 67. Flyer dated Saturday, 19 July. The date corresponds with the calendar for 1980 (Human Hands 1980). 68. McKenna (1979b, N95).


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69. See Kelly (1979, 37) and Anonymous (1980, 9). 70. Information regarding Dianne Chai from Paul Greenstein quoted in Spitz and Mullen (2001, 177). 71. In another context, Mimi Thi Nguyen argues (2012b) that Vietnamese refugees are often marked as illiberal and, therefore, outside the bounds of the state in The Gift of Freedom (2012). 72. Sources that mention this first story include Spitz and Mullen (2001, 176–7); Bag (2011, 311). Exceptions to these rules included The Plugz, who were never banned from Wong’s. Tito Larriva, lead singer and guitarist for Chicano punk outfit, the Plugz, notes: ‘‘I don’t know why, but we were the only band who could play both the Hong Kong and Wong’s.’’ Larriva quoted in Spitz and Mullen (2001, 179). The Martha Davis-fronted Motels also played there regularly, though they most often were considered a ‘‘new wave’’ outfit. 73. Mullen quoted in Spitz and Mullen (2001, 177). 74. Bag (2011, 311). Bag places this event as happening in Fall 1979 in her memoir. 75. The Bags were also on the bill of a show turned violent at Doug Weston’s Troubadour in February 1978 that also led to a post-riot fight between Tom Waits and Bag’s then boyfriend, the drummer, Nickey Beat. For information on this confrontation see Bessy (1978b, 21); Spitz and Mullen (2001); Mullen (2007); and Bag (2011, 240–2). Later that year the Bags were playing a show booked by Chicano artists Gronk and Jerry Dreva at LACE Gallery in downtown L.A., when another fight broke out and a lot of art was smashed. For more on this event, see Mullen (2007); and Bag (2011). 76. See for instance, The Bags performing their Dangerhouse classic ‘‘Survive’’ (The Bags 2006). 77. Mullen (2007). 78. Flipside (1979). 79. Kun (2003). 80. Lowe and Lloyd (1997, 7). 81. Davis (1990, 268). 82. Gilmore (2007).

References Anonymous. 1980. ‘‘Newsreel.’’ BAM Magazine (30 May): 9. Bag, Alice. 2011. Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage. A Chicana Punk Story. Port Townsend, WA: Feral House. The Bags. 2006. Survive. 16 April. Accessed January 17, 2012. http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=sJ89-UAS3pA Bessy, Claude. 1977. ‘‘Kickboy Face. Local Shit.’’ Slash. 1(2): 4. ———. 1978a. ‘‘Local Shit.’’ Slash. 2(1): 5. ———. 1978b. ‘‘The Trashing of the Troubadour.’’ Slash. 1(9): 21. Cacho, Lisa Marie. 2007. ‘‘You Just Don’t Know How Much He Meant: Deviancy, Death, and Devaluation.’’ Latino Studies 5: 182–208. ———. Forthcoming. Social Death: Racialized Rightlessness and the Criminalization of the Unprotected. New York: New York University Press. Cantwell, Robert. 1996. When We were Good: The Folk Revival. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Chang, Jeff. 2005. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-hop Generation. New York: Picador. Davis, Mike. 1990. City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles. London: Verso. Eng, David. 2001. Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


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Escovedo, Javier (with Phast Phreddie). 1991. ‘‘Liner Notes to Zeros.’’ Don’t Push me Around (Rare & Unreleased Classics From ‘77). Bomp! Records, BCD 4035. Felt, Eden, and Iraya Robles. 1992. Marks in Time. Ferguson, Roderick A. 2003. Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Flipside, Al. 1979. ‘‘Bags at Madame Wong’s Restaurant, Nov 8. (review)’’ Flipside 12 (January). ‘‘Forming: The Early Days of L.A. Punk.’’ 1999. (exhibit) Santa Monica: Track 16 Gallery, 10 April – 5 June. Gilmore, Ruth Wilson. 2007. Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. Gilroy, Paul. 1987. There Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. The Go-Go’s. 1994a. ‘‘Living at the Canterbury/Party Pose.’’ Return to the Valley of the GoGo’s. I.R.S. Records, 7243 8 29694 26. ———. 1994b. Return to the Valley of the Go-Go’s. I.R.S. Records, 7243 8 29694 26. Gonzalez, Juan. 2000. Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in Latin America. New York: Penguin. Graham, Bill. 1977. ‘‘Interview with Tom Snyder.’’ Tomorrow with Tom Snyder. Airdate, October 11. Gurza, Agustin. 2008. ‘‘Culture Mix: L.A. Punk History is a Serious Subject.’’ Los Angeles Times, May 24. Accessed December 5, 2011. http://articles.latimes.com/2008/may/24/ entertainment/et-culture24 Habell-Palla´n, Michelle. 2005. ‘‘¿Soy Punkera, Y Que?: Sexuality, Translocality, and Punk in Los Angeles and Beyond.’’ Loca Motion: The Travels of Chicana and Latina Popular Culture. 147–180. New York: New York University Press. ———. 2009. ‘‘Death to Racism and Punk Rock Revisionism: Alice Bag’s Cancı´on Ranchera in Hollywood Punk Aesthetics.’’ Paper presented at ‘‘Practices of Citizenship, Sustainability, and Belonging: American Studies Association Annual Conference.’’ Washington, DC. 6 November. Halberstam, Judith. 2011. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Hall, Stuart. 1981. ‘‘Notes on Deconstructing The Popular.’’ In People’s History and Socialist Theory, edited by Raphael Samuel, 227–240. London: Routledge. Hebdige, Dick. 1979. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. New York: Routledge, 1979. Human Hands, Flyer. 1980. ‘‘From Author’s Personal Collection.’’ Dated 19 July. Johnson, Barbara. 1994. The Wake of Deconstruction. Boston: Blackwell. Kelley, Robin D.G. 1992. ‘‘Notes on Deconstructing The Folk.’’ American Historical Review 97(5): 1400–1408. Kelly, Karen. 1979. ‘‘Won Ton Wars: Can L.A. Survive the Chinatown Syndrome?’’ BAM Magazine. (19): 37. Kun, Josh. 2003. ‘‘Vex Populi: At an Unprepossessing Eastside Punk Rock Landmark, Utopia was in the Air. Until the Day It Wasn’t.’’ Los Angeles Magazine, March. Accessed June 2, 2011. http://www.elaguide.org/Peoples/joshkun.htm Kwon, Soo Ah. Forthcoming. Uncivil Youth: Race, Activism, and Affirmative Governmentality. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Lee, Craig. 1980. ‘‘The Go-Go’s: Send us Your Underwear.’’ Damage 4(February): 26–29. ———. 1981. ‘‘Hollywood’s Bad Habit.’’ New York Rocker 37(March): 28. ———. 1983. ‘‘Los Angeles.’’ In Hardcore California: A history of punk and new wave, edited by Peter Belsito and Bob Davis, 9–40. Berkeley, CA: The Last Gasp of San Francisco.


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Lens, Jenny. 2004. ‘‘Interview with Alice Bag.’’ Women in L.A. Punk, November. Accessed July 17, 2012. http://alicebag.com/jennylensinterview.html Lipsitz, George. 1990. ‘‘Cruising Around the Historical Bloc: Postmodernism and Popular Music in East Los Angeles.’’ Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture. 133–160. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990. ———. 2007. Footsteps in the Dark: The Hidden Histories of Popular Music. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ———. 2011. How Racism Takes Place. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. Lott, Eric. 1993. Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. New York: Oxford University Press. Lowe, Lisa and David Lloyd. 1997. ‘‘Introduction.’’ In The Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital, edited by Lisa Lowe and David Lloyd, 1–32. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. McKenna, Kristine. 1979a. ‘‘X: Creating Rock from Real Life.’’ Los Angeles Times (29 April): N73. ———. 1979b. ‘‘Popline: A skirmish in Chinatown.’’ Los Angeles Times (24 June): N95. ———. 1980. ‘‘Raybeats in Local Debut.’’ Los Angeles Times (23 Oct): G4. MacLeod, Dewar. 2010. Kids of the Black Hole: Punk Rock in Postsuburban California. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. Mbembe, Achille. 2003. ‘‘Necropolitics.’’ Translated by Libby Meintjes. Public Culture 15(1): 11–40. Mullen, Brendan. 2007. ‘‘The Bags: On Surviving the Manimal and the Origins of US hardcore (liner notes).’’ The Bags, All Bagged Up: The Bags 1977–1980. Artifix Records, SPR025. ———. with Roger Gastman. 2007. Live at the Masque: Nightmare in Punk Alley. Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press. Mun˜oz, Jose´ Esteban. 1999. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Nikpour, Golnar. 2012. White Riot: Another Failure . . . Maximum Rocknroll, January 17. Accessed June 25, 2012. http://maximumrocknroll.com/white-riot-another-failure Ngoˆ, Fiona I.B. Forthcoming. Imperial Blues: Geographies of Race and Sex in Jazz Age New York. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, forthcoming. Nguyen, Mimi Thi. 2012a. ‘‘Afterward.’’ In Punkademics: The Basement Show in the Ivory Tower, edited by Furness Zack, 217–223. Brooklyn, NY: Minor Compositions. ———. 2012b. The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Panter, Nicole. 2005. ‘‘Interview with Alice Bag.’’ Women in L.A. Punk. (April). Accessed December 13, 2011. http://www.alicebag.com/nicolepanterinterview.html Patterson, Fred ‘‘Phast Phreddie.’’ 1997. ‘‘Like Everything Else in L.A., it is Now a Mini Mall.’’ In Make the Music Go Bang: The Early L. A. Punk Scene, edited by Don Snowden, 26–27. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin. Pierce, [Ranking] Jeffrey. 1980. X. NY Rocker (Sept.): 9–10. Reddy, Chandan. 2012. Freedom with Violence. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Rodrı´ guez, Dylan. 2004. Forced Passages: Imprisoned Radical Intellectuals and the US Prison Regime. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Rose, Tricia. 1994. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Hanover, CT: Wesleyan University Press. Ruddick, Susan M. 1996. Young and Homeless in Hollywood: Mapping Social Identities. New York: Routledge.


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Snowden, Don. 1997. ‘‘You Should Get to Know Your Town.’’ In Make the Music go Bang: The Early L. A. Punk Scene, edited by Don Snowden, 143–158. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin. Soja, Edward W. 1989. Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory. London: Verso. Spheeris, Penelope, Dir. 1981. The Decline of Western Civilization. Spheeris Films Inc. Spitz, Marc, and Brendan Mullen, eds. 2001. We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk. New York: Three Rivers Press. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. 1979. ‘‘Refugee.’’ Damn the Torpedoes. MCA Records. Traber, Daniel S. 2007. ‘‘L.A. Punk’s Sub-urbanism.’’ Whiteness, Otherness, and the Individualism Paradox: From Huck to Punk. 115–136. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. X. 1979. Los Angeles. Yes, LA. Dangerhouse Records, EW 79. ———. 1980. ‘‘Los Angeles.’’ Los Angeles. Slash Records, SR 104. ———. 1983. ‘‘Make the Music go Bang.’’ More Fun in the New World. Elektra Records, 9 60283-2.


Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory Vol. 22, Nos. 2–3, July–November 2012, 233–238

Work that Hoe: Tilling the Soil of Punk Feminism

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Alice Bag*

In this brief essay, Alice Bag presents the politics at stake within contemporary histories and writings on punk. For Bag, punk continues to inform countercultural productions and protest movements aimed at societal change such as the ongoing events at Tahrir Square. She argues for a feminist notion of punk that understands social change as a continuum; just as something came before punk which created the social context for it to occur (and provided meaning for punk) so too did something follow. This form of punk challenges dominant conceptions of the scene as white, heteronormative, and/or male-driven. Focusing primarily on the early days of the Masque, a small punk rock venue in central Hollywood, Bag remembers the diverse range of misfits that constituted the early L.A. punk community. Keywords: Los Angeles; punk rock; Chicano; feminism; Alice Bag

Much of punk history and criticism has been written by people who weren’t there at the time. As an author, archivist, and the former lead singer of the Bags, one of Los Angeles’s earliest punk bands, I am in a unique position to describe punk as I lived it (and still do) as well as provide a forum for others who were there to share their stories and perspectives. I firmly believe that artists should document their own scenes and movements because history has a curious way of focusing itself through the biased lens of the dominant culture. Until the turn of the millennium, one could easily have been forgiven for thinking that punk was largely a white, male, musical style which had its roots in either (a) disaffected but intelligent musicians in New York City or (b) disaffected, bored, and unemployed working-class youths in England. As the post-millennial generation took a look back at the last significant countercultural movement of the twentieth century, they discovered that there was much more to the story and that the reports of punk’s demise were premature. Punk attitude continues to inform counterculture, protest movements, and popular actions aimed at societal change. Punk is not dead, but neither is it to be found in the local mall’s ‘‘alternative’’ clothing store. Punk is alive and well in Tahrir Square, in the planned actions and protests of antiwar organizations, in local organic farming co-ops who demand the right to take back control of their food supply, in the anarchic ideals of hacktivists who target corrupt governments and corporations *Email: alice@alicebag.com ISSN 0740–770X print/ISSN 1748–5819 online ! 2012 Women & Performance Project Inc. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2012.721079 http://www.tandfonline.com


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Figure 1. Performing with The Bags in the late 1970s. Photo by Dan Hogle.

under the flag of Anonymous. As we examine the antecedents of punk and specifically punk feminism, I’d like to make the point that all social change is a continuum; just as something came before punk which created the social context for it to occur (and provided meaning for punk) so too did something follow (Figure 1). In the process of writing my memoirs, I discovered that I was able to situate my participation in the birth of the West Coast punk scene within a much broader historical context, one that was not at all obvious to me at the time. What started out as a series of autobiographical blog entries ended up telling the story of several social


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movements that personally affected me: the Chicano movement, feminism, gay rights. My particular form of punk expression was also deeply affected by my childhood. I was born in East L.A., the daughter of Mexican immigrants and I entered the U.S. educational system as a non-English-speaking student. The English immersion program that was thrust upon me denied the value of my Spanish oral language and I was reprimanded for using it. My name was changed to Alice by teachers who were unable to pronounce Alicia. My first few years of elementary school felt like a negation of who I had been for the first five years of my life. The main purpose was to roll me up like a misshapen clay sculpture and reshape me into the appropriate model of what an American student should be. I was being colonized within my own country but I was too young to realize it. It wouldn’t be until several years later when I saw a guy wearing a patch on his jeans with a brown fist encircled by the words ‘‘we are not a minority, we are a chosen few’’ that I started to suspect I was not part of mainstream America. Around this time the Chicano Moratorium was held a short distance from my house. It was a march meant to protest the disproportionate numbers of Mexican-American soldiers dying in the Vietnam War. The deadly outcome of this event led to my identification as ‘‘other’’ and also made me acutely aware that this ‘‘other’’ was perceived as undesirable and had powerful and dangerous enemies. But other forces much closer to home had an even greater impact on me. My father was a hurricane of a man whose forceful personality and abusive outbursts held my mother, my sister, and me captive. The relationships within my family and in particular the violence which my father inflicted upon my mother left a visceral impression of the unequal power between the sexes. I longed for a confrontation of equals and if my mother could not or would not stand up to my father, I knew that one day I would. Upon this fertile ground would fall the seeds of feminism, which the women’s movement of the 1960s was disseminating. In junior high school, we girls had to wear dresses and hose regardless of the weather. It seems like such a small example of inequality but the older girls at our school circulated petitions and organized protests until this rule was changed. I remember the day it was announced over the loud speakers that girls would be allowed to wear pants: it was a small but meaningful victory. You could hear the cheering and whooping throughout the halls, the joyful sounds of young girls’ first taste of self-determination. A few years later Billy Jean King would challenge a loud, chauvinistic braggart named Bobby Riggs to a tennis match that would bring national attention to women’s sports and to women’s issues. I discovered the word feminism about this time and immediately claimed the title. Around the same time, I began to affiliate with friends who I later realized were gay or lesbian. In the early 1970s, being gay was much less accepted than it is today, so most of my friends were in various stages of coming out of the closet. I hadn’t identified myself as bisexual at that time, but witnessing the discrimination my friends had to deal with made me sympathetic to the struggle for gay rights and queer identification. Like Latinos and women, this group was seen as ‘‘other.’’ By the middle of the 1970s, many of those individuals who had been identified as


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Figure 2. Alice Bag. Photo by Melanie Nissen.

‘‘different’’ or ‘‘other’’ were floating around in a vacuum, awaiting the spark that would ignite the next Big Bang. That spark was punk rock (Figure 2). The early L.A. punk scene was made up of a broad range of individuals with a variety of motives for being involved. Early punks were rich, poor, gay, straight, male, and female, with a good sampling of L.A.’s ethnic diversity: Latinos, blacks, and Asians were all involved along with whites in the early days of the Masque. The earliest participants and movers behind the scene were united only in the sense of having been identified as ‘‘outcasts,’’ either by society or by themselves. We were different, proudly different, and wanted to express our creativity through our art, our music, our fashion, our way of life. Early punk was as much a rejection of the status quo as it was the product of the rejects of the status quo. Together we were a band of misfits, creators of the space and the discourse that would sustain L.A.’s original punk scene. There was no white, male hierarchy in the


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Figure 3. Alice Bag, 2012. Photo by Angie Skull Garcia.

early scene and punk had not yet become associated with angry white boys. Instead, the women I interviewed for my archives repeatedly come back to the idea that early punk was a time and place where gender roles were discarded, where women were free to do as they pleased because no one had time to worry about what they should or should not be doing. Similarly, it is my experience that race and class distinctions were, for the most part, suspended during the brief period that marked the birth of the West Coast


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punk scene. Punk encouraged the discarding of old roles and old identities. With the widespread adoption of punk names like Kickboy Face, Tomata du Plenty, Darby Crash, or Alice Bag, ethnic identification relied solely on visual cues, but even visual cues to ethnic or sexual identity were blurred by our extreme hairstyles, make-up, and clothing. Thus, early punk participants forced a confrontation with stereotyped notions of identity and confounded expectations by offering a wholly unique and unexpected alternative view. The punk revolution of the mid-1970s was the next logical step in a series of social upheavals and progressive movements, including gay rights and women’s rights. Early punk participants, disenfranchised by the status quo, grew tired of knocking politely at the doors of the establishment and decided to simply kick them down. The kinetic energy behind that kick flowed directly from antecedent movements. And just as energy can neither be created nor destroyed but merely change in form, the impetus behind the punk movement continues to inspire many of the revolutionary social and political movements of today. The creation and establishment of a new punk paradigm can only be properly understood in historical context with the social movements that led up to it and surrounded the punk revolution (Figure 3).

Notes on contributor Alice Bag, Alicia Velasquez, stands as one of the few female pioneers of the early L.A. punk scene. Known as the riveting singer of the infamous L.A. punk rock band The Bags, Bag’s work landed her in Marc Spitz’ famous oral history of Los Angeles’ early punk scene, We Got the Neutron Bomb, and a cameo in Penelope Spheeris’ documentary, Decline of Western Civilization. At the same time, she is also known for her involvement in the concept band, ¡Cholita! with drag superstar, Vaginal Creme Davis and as a member of the feminist punk band, Castration Squad. She recently published a book of her memoirs, Violence Girl – From East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, a Chicana Punk Story (Feral House, 2011), which is reviewed in this issue. You can visit Bag’s own archives of Women In L.A. Punk and numerous interviews she has compiled at www.alicebag.com/womeninlapunk.


Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory Vol. 22, Nos. 2–3, July–November 2012, 239–260

‘‘Freakin’ Out’’: Remaking Masculinity through Punk Rock in Detroit1 Katherine E. Wadkins*

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Brooklyn, NY, USA Detroit, as a birthplace for some of the earliest forms of punk rock, had a unique set of political and social conditions that made it ripe for the negotiation of race, sexuality, and gender within punk. One band of four Black brothers named ‘‘Death’’ navigated the space between their parent community and the world of what was perceived as ‘‘white’’ music. By performing a refusal to enact any one sense of ‘‘self,’’ Death performed a transgression, which was key to their own straightforward aesthetic. This transgression ostracized them from white and Black communities alike. Death forces us to reexamine the white-dominated narrative of punk music, which was thoroughly influenced by Black cultural modes from the outset. Early white punk bands MC5 and the Stooges had ready access to Black music and political activity; they performed new masculine identities based on an admiration for Black culture, as well as Black stereotypes. Paradoxically, as young Black men playing an early form of punk music, Death was unable to break into the world of white rock and was generally misunderstood in their local Black music community. Rather than concern themselves with an aesthetic style, Death pushed boundaries through their imaginative musical and political visions. Keywords: punk rock music; Death; Detroit; Black masculinity; whiteness; cultural appropriation; MC5; Iggy Pop; Stooges

‘‘That’s right. I’m talking a black punk band, can y’all get to that? Because in the beginning, the kid couldn’t hang – I mean when I was coming up, you could get your ass kicked for calling another brother a punk.’’ In his 1982 review of Bad Brains, the all-Black, Washington, D.C.-based hardcore band, Village Voice critic Greg Tate subtly captured the complicated nature of punk’s underpinnings.2 For Black men, even aligning oneself with the word ‘‘punk’’ was a challenge to their peers, and during a time of violent clashes with police forces and the National Guard in many American cities, Black community was essential to survival. One band of four brothers named ‘‘Death,’’ from Detroit, Michigan, spent their (abrupt, and later, revived) career navigating the space between their parent community and the world of what was perceived as ‘‘white’’ music. In the following essay, I argue that Detroit, as a birthplace for some of the earliest forms of punk rock, presented a unique set of political and social conditions for the negotiation of race, sexuality, and gender *Email: mskatherinewadkins@gmail.com ISSN 0740–770X print/ISSN 1748–5819 online ! 2012 Women & Performance Project Inc. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2012.721083 http://www.tandfonline.com


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within punk in the early-to-mid 1970s.3 As unrest proliferated in the U.S. due to both the failing war in Vietnam and a failing economy, gender, and racialized masculinity in particular, became troubled. In White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of Race, Stephen Duncombe and Maxwell Tremblay argue that concurrent with the rise of punk rock in the U.S. and England, the contestation of white supremacy became apparent: whiteness was no longer invisible.4 Whiteness was not only visible, it was also undesirable to white punks and hipsters who had lost hope in the false icons represented by the military and the government. White sons were no longer guaranteed the (potentially) stable lives of their fathers, so whiteness was imagined to have failed them. Instead, continuing a trend that has echoed through what is perceived as ‘‘white music,’’ white punks turned to the influence of Black culture. Early white Detroit-based punk bands MC5 and the Stooges had ready access to Black music and political activity (for instance, MC5 adopted the radical political slang of the Black Panthers), and they performed new masculine identities based on admiration for, but also distortion of, Black culture. Paradoxically, as young Black men playing an early form of punk music, Death was unable to break into the world of white rock, and was generally misunderstood in their local Black music community. The parallel stories of white and Black punk in Detroit speak to larger racial threads in punk from its inception in the mid-1970s through today. Like rock ‘n’ roll, punk rock may have evolved to ‘‘sound white,’’ but it has always had roots in Black musical traditions. In his essay ‘‘Play like a white boy: Hard dancing in the city of chocolate,’’ Bad Brains’ Darryl Jenifer states that ‘‘rock and roll has its roots in blues – the original swamp-bucket styles that were (unfortunately) rooted in slave field hymns, which I’m sure came across from the sea of Africa.’’5 There is an apparent disconnect: historians credit Black rock’n’roll as the predecessor of the more stripped-down rock of the 1960s for paving the way to inspire punk rock. However, centering Black musicianship within punk is nearly unheard of. Punk is often posited as a form of resistance based in white workingclass struggle, and even when that is debunked, another common trope is that punk was by and for white suburbanites.6 But while young white punks tapped into Black music and political modes in order to create new identities, young Black men also utilized the new punk sound to explore those forces that sought to contain their communities and their histories. To clarify, I argue that punk is neither a white nor a Black music phenomenon, but that attention must be paid to the influence of Black aesthetics on punk, especially considering the genre’s virtual ‘‘whitewashing’’ since its origin.7 While punk rock has been made famous, by and large, by white men, it was copiously influenced, expanded, and built upon in meaningful ways by Black men.8 Putting Death at the forefront highlights the often forgotten story of Black male youth rebellion through punk. As a form of expression and cultural commentary, punk rock offered new ways of defining Blackness, and thus, Black masculinity, for Death. The Hackney brothers (eldest brother David, backed up by younger brothers Dannis and Bobby) utilized a range of influences to push musical and racial boundaries.9 The band barely made a blip after their original record deal with Columbia fell through in 1976 until being rediscovered, with escalating popularity, in


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the late 1990s and early 2000s.10 Their presence as well as their absence from some punk histories complicates and challenges the common narrative that punk rock is by and for white men, a narrative that has largely centered on white, male anxieties.11 The appropriation of Black culture by MC5 and Stooges conflated ideas about race and gender, making Black masculinity crucial to their re-imagination of white masculinity through punk. While MC5 and the Stooges have enjoyed quite a large following and seemingly endless staying power, it is commonly their appropriation of racial and class-based stereotypes that makes them the innovative, counter-cultural artists they have been lauded as. On the contrary, Death have been all but omitted from the punk narrative. This is not uncommon: as is blatantly apparent in this article, there are very few Black, male, punk voices from this era that have entered the academy to date, leaving sparse source material for this conversation. Bad Brains formed in 1977 and have, more often than not, been viewed as the first all-Black punk band. While Bad Brains are certainly pioneers of the hardcore punk movement (originating in D.C.), the existence of Death forces us to ask: what more are we missing from punk history? I propose that analyzing discourses of Black masculinity is key to understanding punk as a political and social formation. First, I will locate the ways that Detroit, with its radical Black politics, its robust history as a musical city, and its masculine car culture paved the way for punk rock to come kicking and screaming from the inner city. This unique amalgam created a new space for men to explore their own masculinist and artistic visions. MC5 and Stooges channeled their desire to shirk whiteness into decidedly ‘‘white ethnic’’ or Black working-class tropes of masculinity. These white bands also continually pushed the boundaries of gender and sexuality. While Death also responded to fraught feelings about masculinity, they worked this out through their music. Death’s performance of Black workingclass masculinity is consistent throughout their early years as a band, and they repeatedly assert that their main goals were to push musical boundaries and to play music as often as possible. Here, I also propose that as MC5 and the Stooges continued to imitate Black culture, this transgression – white men imitating Blackness – became central to punk’s edginess, to its newness in the early 1970s and to its inherent antiauthoritarian stance. If this specific racial (as well as classed and gendered) performance was required to ‘‘be punk,’’ then Death were inherently left out of that dynamic. Instead of being ‘‘Black’’ or ‘‘white,’’ punk may be a conversation between cultures, an amalgamation of symbols, styles, and sounds that has consistently crossed borders and social categories in its relatively young lifespan. If this is the case, further exploration of identity performance in punk is a crucial tool in expanding punk’s history. Recognizing Death’s existence at the onset of punk opens a space for a reenvisioning of the punk narrative. While it is not surprising that the history of punk has habitually privileged the stories of its white participants (indeed, this has been a failure in most strands of Western history), the relentless nature of this trend is disappointing, if not enraging. I challenge the prevailing white story of punk with the aims of women’s historians and scholars of color before me in mind; following the


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coeditors of Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women’s History, I hope to ‘‘not only to open up social categories including gender, race, class, culture, region, generation, and sexual orientation but bring them together through comparative analyses, studies of unequal power dynamics, and explorations of intercultural borders.’’12 This re-centering of Black contributions to punk rock is preceded and necessitated by works like Shotgun Seamstress, a zine ‘‘by and for black punks’’ created by musician and writer Osa Atoe, as well as other critical publications like Mimi Nguyen’s Evolution of a Race Riot compilation zines, and countless articles in punk fanzines throughout the existence of the music itself. I. Death in Detroit: masculinity and strife in Motor City As whiteness faltered under the dire conditions of the 1970s’ American landscape, so did masculinity. Traditional masculine role models waned in popularity, and subcultures emerged as fertile ground for negotiating identities. By January 1973, the United States had experienced its first military loss in history, creating an era of fallen American heroes, and a decrease in support for US foreign policy. With this defeat, the increasingly unpopular draft ended for the first time in over 30 years and the faltering economy could no longer guarantee the future prosperity of young (white) men. Inflation rates rose and employment rates dropped across the board, causing stagflation; New York City declared bankruptcy. In the wake of the Civil Rights, women’s, and gay liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, racial dynamics and gender roles were undermined in ways that forever changed American culture. A nationwide scramble to redefine masculinity ensued;13 this scramble has historical roots in times of sweeping economic and social change.14 Following the death of the era’s revolutionary mood (literally – both respected, progressive leaders and more radical activists had been assassinated), a space opened up in the structural norms of American life. While these conditions continued to challenge men young and old, burgeoning underground music scenes began creating new brands of rebellion and opportunities for male identities in modes often opposed to the politics and aesthetics of the hippies before them.15 As Detroit transformed under social and political unrest, so did the music emanating from its core. As a seedbed of working-class activism, a major birthplace of American music, and a center of virile car culture, the city was equipped to ignite an explosion of masculine rock. Detroit was a renowned musical city, with Black folk styles proliferating in the area for the entirety of the Great Migration (in which the southern Black population moved to the north in droves).16 In the 1960s, Motown filled the streets and paved the way for rock’n’roll and funk music in Detroit. Soon after, punk music would emerge from the working-class white and Black men of the inner city. White and Black teenage rockers alike ventured to the auto show or the drag strip to discover new bands, solidifying a relationship between car culture and rock music.17 Through punk, Detroit bands Death, MC5, and the Stooges created not only social, but political selves that were radically distinct. The navigation of masculinity is apparent in those bands that preceded, established, and elaborated on punk rock as a musical phenomenon. Iggy Pop described life as a young male musician as ‘‘trying to find . . . your balls.’’18 Like this crude proclamation, he and his


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cohorts searched for ways to define themselves as men through their music. Gender was performed literally, during the bands’ appearances, and implicitly, in their personhood. Pop often cross-dressed, amplifying his androgynous sex appeal during shows. Aside from literal performance, Pop and his peers consciously engaged with, and played with masculinity. Through punk, boys and men also negotiated sexual identities, often crossing the boundaries between hetero- and homosexual, in both their manner of style and their actions. With the music and decoration of glitter rock (a precursor to the more mainstream glam rock, and a scene which many of the original punks were involved in), men experimented with women’s clothing and make-up. Some of these men also prostituted themselves to fund their drug habits. Gender and sexual playfulness, coupled with avid drug recreation and recklessness, made for an ‘‘anything goes’’ atmosphere, but one that was filled with more seediness and helplessness than the hopeful 1960s.19 As white outcasts and radicals scrambled to piece together alternative identities in active resistance to hegemonic white masculinity, many borrowed heavily from Black culture – or their perceptions of it. Masculinity for Black men was distinctly different than it was for white men in Detroit. As battles were being waged over race, class, and equality, community strife was salient for young, Black men. Palpable fears of violence and destruction may have been a significant reason that three young brothers, like the Hackneys, would continue to strive to be a part of their familial community while being ostracized for the music that they played. As Death remained firmly planted in their neighborhood, they exuded a sort of ‘‘everyman’s’’ Black, working-class masculinity. Dressing in tshirts and jeans with their hair done up in Afros, they repeatedly maintained that their main concern was to play music as often as possible. Death articulated the fears, anxieties, and doubts of their community through their openly political music, which addressed local and national issues directly. This political lyrical content was not uncommon at the time, though it represented a departure from more inner-looking or apathetic trends in rock bands like the Stooges.20 In this respect, the band was channeling the influence of political artists like soul singer Marvin Gaye, whose 1971 hit ‘‘What’s Goin’ On?’’ preceded Death’s own anti-war declaration. ‘‘We weren’t trying to be violent, just socially aware in our music. The Vietnam war was going on, riots in various cities, the late 60s and 70s was a very social and uneasy time,’’ said Bobby Hackney later.21 The lyrics and lifestyle of Death (and MC5) represent a last gasp of underground rock’n’roll that embraced serious engagement with politics in their Detroit scene. MC5, Stooges, and Death formed their political personas and opinions based on the widespread radical Black labor activity in Detroit. After the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, Black empowerment quickly shifted in locale from the rural Southeast to the urban ghettoes of the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast. Along with its geographical change, Black empowerment underwent a serious reassessment in goals. Political organizing began to take a more radical turn. As the Black population gained certain rights, the focus moved away from the legal arena of Civil Rights to the conditions of everyday life, which largely included economic injustices, workers’ rights, and police brutality.22


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The summer of 1967 in Detroit would become known for violent clashes between its Black population and the predominantly white military forces; these clashes would define the politics of Detroit music. At four in the morning on July 23, 1967, an uprising began on Twelfth Street in Detroit, the center of one if its largest Black neighborhoods, after police arrested 85 people for illegal drinking. By this time two hundred people had gathered at the scene, which grew to over 3000 merely four hours later.23 In Detroit, both the police and the National Guard, who subsequently underwent investigation for suspicious activity, perpetrated much of the violence. Police officers were accused of first-degree murder, beating, and intimidation.24 The guardsmen of the 46th Michigan National Guard Division were described as ‘‘trigger happy’’ by the generals in charge. The violence they exerted was gratuitous: a fouryear-old Black child was killed in her apartment building by National Guardsmen who were firing a machine-gun mounted on a tank. On 4 August, the city was still burning and the death toll had climbed to 41; nearly every casualty was Black.25 The uprisings were clearly an eruption of racial tensions; similar actions in predominantly Black neighborhoods were reported in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Des Moines, Iowa, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Birmingham, Alabama by the following day.26 Against this backdrop of racial violence, the Hackney brothers began playing music that was perceived as white. Forming originally as Rock Fire Funk Express (a funk band), the Hackneys were fans of a wide array of music, and rock would effectively transform them; the rapid-fire, loud, brash, and honest sound of punk music spoke to their political attitudes, their working-class background, and their D.I.Y. spirit. David, the band’s leader, changed their name from Rock Fire Funk Express to Death, indicating a turn away from funk, and the lyrics he wrote became more political.27 Death established a brand new sound, influenced by the music of their Detroit neighborhood and filtered through their love of gritty rock, especially bands like fellow Detroiters the Stooges and MC5. Death channeled the masculine energy of early punk while allowing themselves free reign to experiment with the otherworldliness of funk music. For the whole world to see . . . (the band’s first LP) opens with the catchy and upbeat ‘‘Keep on knockin,’’’ thoroughly laced with guitar riffs and perfectly placed solos. With a quick turn to the frantic, ‘‘Rock-n-roll victim’’ detonates with ‘‘hard-drivin’’’ guitars (sounding like a cross between Black Sabbath and the Stooges) paired with a seemingly endless drum roll, only stopping abruptly for more bursts of frenzied energy. Out of nowhere everything falls silent and dream-like chords ring openly, as we are introduced to the harmonies of the Hackney brothers. With these harmonies the listener is eased into a trippy world of corruption illustrated in ‘‘Let the world turn,’’ a song that goes from soul/funk to rock’n’roll in a heartbeat. Without any serious musical cohorts, boundaries were not tangible for Death; instead they tried any and every mode of making music and composed complicated tracks that brought listeners from raw, driving rock energy, to spaced-out jams, and back again. While the Stooges and MC5 were preoccupied with reconciling new visions of masculinity, Death responded to the urgent challenges of their community. Death’s ‘‘hard-drivin’ Rock-n-Roll’’ played on the heightened state of emergency in Black


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Detroit as well as in the lives of young men fearing being drafted in an unjust war. As Greg Tate said of Bad Brains: ‘‘where punk’s obnoxious energy is an attack on the parent-community, Rasta-influenced reggae draws strength from the ideal of a black community working in harmony.’’28 This simultaneous dependence on and isolation from Black community has been described by many Black rockers and is further documented in the current Afro-Punk movement, sparked by director James Spooner’s documentary by the same title. Death infused their music with Black musical traditions (as Bad Brains later would) and punk’s speed and adrenaline, creating a musical palette that truly pushed boundaries, and later, bridged communities.

II. ‘‘Your own simple blues’’: MC5, Stooges, and Black appropriation The MC5 were young, white working-class men born into the auto culture of Michigan. Established in 1964, the band consisted of guitarists Wayne Kramer and Fred ‘‘Sonic’’ Smith, lead singer Rob Tyner, bassist Michael Davis, and drummer Dennis Thompson; they were greasers and self-identified as ‘‘hoodlums.’’ MC5 described their fast-paced rock as simply reflective of their surroundings, abbreviating their name so it ‘‘sounded like a serial number – it fit the whole auto factory life . . . the MC5 sounded like it had been stamped out of the auto factories.’’29 As a form of white American working-class rebelliousness, greaser culture provided a sexy, masculine persona for the MC5 – a persona that was outside of traditional whiteness. When this proved to be stale, and other forms of gender expression more appealing, MC5 would turn to Blackness to inspire their masculine performance. The band bonded over ‘‘a love of hot rods and big-assed engines,’’ as Kramer recalled. He described the band’s style as ‘‘the juvenile delinquent look, the grease look. We combed our hair back in a kind of pompadour, and we wore our trousers tight.’’30 A rivalry also existed in bands at that time, echoing gang-like behavior, a characteristic of greaser culture.31 Cultural historian Daniel Marcus describes greasers as ‘‘working class, usually a non-Jewish ‘white ethnic,’ in the language of the time (such as Italian-American . . .) and decidedly unintellectual and apolitical.’’32 The MC5’s aesthetic style, as well as the origins of their musical style, were well-informed by their working-class, greaser background. Marcus further explains greaser identity as a ‘‘physicalized one’’ which reified ideas about working-class life being ‘‘centered on manual labor.’’ With their love of big-assed engines, MC5 furthers this physical characteristic of working-class lifestyle to relate to women’s bodies. Marcus continues: ‘‘The greaser may have listened to black rock and roll, but did not emulate black social attitudes or behavior.’’33 Such a claim forces us to ask what, then, changed the boys of the MC5 from greasers to Afro-wearing members of the White Panther Party? An obsession with ‘‘cool’’ culture – whether it be working-class and/or appropriated from Blackness – is likely the answer. Without many Black cohorts to speak of, MC5’s choice to imitate Black culture reads as appropriation, and to music and American studies scholar Steve Waksman, like minstrelsy.34 A theme emerged in the transformation of the MC5: while the


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greaser and the Afro-wearing counterculture figure may seem disparate, they are actually quite similar. As young white men shirking a traditional white identity, MC5 went from ‘‘white ethnics’’ who lived a ‘‘physicalized’’ lifestyle to ‘‘white ethnics’’ who imitated their ‘‘physicalized’’ interpretation of Black masculinity. While clearly aware of their whiteness, perhaps MC5 related to over-sexualized and hypermasculine Black tropes because it seemed familiar to them as young greasers. In order to transition from greasers into cultural renegades, MC5 needed a political and artistic leader to guide them. As anti-authoritarian activity bustled in Detroit, the MC5 met just that leader: John Sinclair. Sinclair, a local countercultural icon, united rebellious artistic subcultures in Detroit in an effort known as TransLove Energies (TLE). TLE would heed Beat writer William S. Burroughs’s call for ‘‘a total assault on the culture.’’ A radical educational policy was directly enacted at the MC5’s shows, in which TLE distributed underground literature warning about their troubles with authority.35 Directly influenced by the Black Panther Party, Sinclair sparked a transformation in the MC5. Following the uprisings of 1967, MC5 and TLE moved from Detroit to Ann Arbor, a university town nestled in green hills west of the city. Unlike their Black neighbors, they had white mobility and were able to escape the violence and police repression. While recalling their reasons for leaving, Wayne Kramer cited police brutality, indicating a shared identity or at least solidarity (which may or may not have been reciprocated) with their Black neighbors.36 Considering the brutal violence being enacted by a starkly white military and police presence against Black Detroiters, Kramer’s words reflect a political standpoint, one in line with the MC5’s stance against social order. As MC5 and TLE combined forces, the band became more politicized, though their motives were questionable. Soon they would establish the ‘‘White Panther Party’’ (WPP) with vaguely juvenile intent: We knew the world generally sucked and we didn’t want to be a part of it. We wanted to do something else, which amounts to not wanting to get up in the morning and have a real job. . . . It was just on a gut level – that was the level of our politics – we wanted to make up different ways to be. So our political program became dope, rock & roll, and fucking in the streets. . . . Then we started the White Panther Party, which was originally the MC5’s fan club. Originally it was called ‘‘The MC5’s Social and Athletic Club.’’ Then we started hearing about the Black Panthers and how the revolution was bubbling under, so it was, ‘‘Oh, let’s change it to the White Panthers. Yeah, we’ll be the White Panthers.’’37

While this behavior suggests a rejection of capitalism, or even a working-class resistance of the growing white-collar world, it also reinforced, and took the form of, a romantic version of juvenile delinquency, unsurprising considering the greaser culture from which the MC5 emerged. While this also reverberates with many other subcultures, MC5’s attitude certainly set a precedent for punks to come, with their politically-laced carelessness and the fine line between politics and parody. The MC5’s ill-informed, casual tone in establishing the White Panther Party reflects their continued sympathy for Detroit’s Black revolutionary population, though it also denotes a lack of critical understanding of Black nationalism and Black Power movements. Cultural historian Jeff A. Hale asserts that one key


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member of the TLE read texts by Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton, and took heed to a call-out from the Black Panthers for allies among ‘‘white mother country radicals,’’ leading to the establishment of the WPP. The new manifesto for the WPP included ‘‘full endorsement of the Black Panther Party’s ten-point program and platform . . . free food, clothes, housing, drugs, music, bodies, and medical care; and freedom from ‘phony’ leaders – ‘everyone must be a leader . . .’’’ plus the aforementioned ‘‘dope, rock & roll, and fucking in the streets.’’38 Hale describes the WPP platform as ‘‘fantasy politics,’’ ‘‘tongue-in-cheek,’’ and ‘‘little more than a paper construct.’’ The WPP may have intended to support the Black Panthers; however, their political commitments were flimsy. MC5 ‘‘primitivized’’ the culture of their Black idols, and exuded this in their performance of gender in politics and music. MC5 lead singer Rob Tyner wore his hair ‘‘in one huge puff ball teased out six to nine inches from his head,’’ imitating the Afro, the popular Black hairstyle of the time; the band’s music harkened to the Black avant-garde jazz musician Sun Ra.39 Through an imitation of clothing, hair, musical modes, and live performance, as well as an emulation of the language and politics of the Black Panther Party, MC5 constructed a new, sexualized white masculinity. This appropriation was crucial to their political and social identities, and though it is striking, it was not uncommon at the time. As I will explore further, the Stooges undertook a blatantly similar racial project. In his essay ‘‘Kick out the jams!: The MC5 and the politics of noise,’’ Waksman aptly points out MC5’s obsession with many different forms of African-American music, from John Coltrane’s jazz to Archie Shepp (saxaphonist)’s free jazz, to the blues of Screaming Jay Hawkins and Ray Charles. Further, Waksman discusses how this obsession is linked to the band’s construction of masculinity: What linked these disparate styles for the Five was their high energy, and a sensibility that represented to the band a subversion of the ‘‘white honkie culture’’ and an affirmation of a new aesthetic and political order founded upon the celebration of bodily pleasure. That this return to the body was to be led by ‘‘pure’’ black men and that one of its goals was to reconstruct white men as sexually charged ‘‘rock’n’roll guerrillas’’ does not speak well for the Five’s revolutionary vision . . . it betrays the sort of primitivization of blackness, and of black masculinity in particular, that has characterized so many of the attempts by white European and American men to escape or transcend the constrictions of ‘‘their’’ culture.40

Through MC5, the white male gaze utilized Black masculinity to provide fodder for new visions of white masculinity. As Waksman points out, MC5’s Black-masculineimaginary is ‘‘sexually charged,’’ a ‘‘pure’’ ‘‘return to the body.’’ Thus, for all the claims to trangression, this kind of ‘‘primitivization’’– relegating Black men to the realm of the uncivilized, the savage, and the sexual – is a firmly rooted Western phenomenon, making this iteration of punk imagination a rather hegemonic one. Rather than resisting mainstream whiteness or gender formations, MC5 actually reified common, harmful tropes about Blackness. MC5’s brother band the Stooges also employed a misinterpretation, or primitivization, of Black masculinity to inform their gender performance. Iggy Pop continually equated Black musicianship with authentic masculinity and unrestrained sexuality. Both white bands created a binary, in which ‘‘white honkie


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culture’’ was uncool, as were white musicians. If Black meant masculinity, then white meant femininity. Earlier in his life, Pop quit his band, the Prime Movers, and traveled to Chicago to learn to be a better drummer at the hand of Black musicians; specifically, he was in search of Sam Lay, the Black blues drummer.

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Once I heard the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters, and even Chuck Berry playing his own tune, I couldn’t go back and listen to the British Invasion, you know, a band like the Kinks. I’m sorry, the Kinks are great, but when you’re a young guy and you’re trying to find out where your balls are, you go, ‘‘Those guys sound like pussies!’’41

Here, Pop makes it clear that white rock bands were not useful in defining his masculine identity, nor the masculinity of other young men. While Pop’s quote is indicative of a general musical (and cultural) shift away from the British invasion and toward American rock bands, he is also indicating a specific taste – a specific cool – that relied much on Black musicianship. Pop described his early musical experimentation as ‘‘trying to find out where your balls are,’’ and immediately dismissed the contribution of white men to this process, emphasizing instead the importance of Black men ‘‘playing their own tune.’’ Black masculinity proved to be – again – a freeing vehicle for young, white men who felt stifled by their options. With his idea of ‘‘hip’’ based entirely on Black blues music and his own perception of Black sexuality, Pop’s performance was yet another example of the physical transference of ‘‘Black’’ masculinity to white punk. In Chicago, Pop imagined himself as a thrill seeker among ‘‘the natives,’’ writing that he ‘‘was the only white guy there . . . It was scary, but it was also a travel adventure.’’42 This flirtation with a ‘‘scary’’ location or way of life implies privilege; Iggy Pop had the choice to visit Chicago and spend time with these musicians. On the contrary, this ‘‘scary’’ place was home to the people he was visiting. Pop also linked his being the ‘‘only white guy there’’ to the place being ‘‘scary,’’ reflecting a fear of Black communities, and most likely also fear surrounding the racial tension in urban ghettoes in the late sixties. As with the MC5 moving from Detroit to Ann Arbor, the white privilege of mobility is prevalent throughout his commentary.43 Iggy Pop’s understanding of the Black musicians he met was misguided, colored by his own primitivist visions of Blackness. In line with colonial histories of masculinist fantasies, he objectified the Black women in the blues scene through exclaims of reduction to sexual objects and body parts: ‘‘They had such big asses, those women, I’d never seen bottoms so big.’’44 Again, this exaggerated sexual and gendered performance recalls the greasers and their love for ‘‘big-assed’’ engines. After his time in Chicago, Pop also made his beliefs about the Black men he befriended obvious: they were ‘‘naturally’’ good musicians (and the music they played ‘‘simple’’), drug and alcohol abusers, childlike, and noncommittal. Pop distilled these men’s identities in a curiously inconsistent way. It was a thrill to be really close to some of those guys – they all had an attitude, like jive motherfuckers, you know? What I noticed about these black guys was that their music was like honey off their fingers. Real childlike and charming in its simplicity. It was just a very natural mode of expression and life-style. They were drunk all the time and it was all sexy-sexy and dudey-dudey, and it was just a bunch of guys that didn’t want to work and who played good. I realized that these guys were way over my head, and that what


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they were doing was so natural to them that it was ridiculous for me to make a studious copy of it, which is what most white blues bands did.45

Pop holds contradictory opinions of his Black teachers, claiming that they ‘‘were way over my head’’ yet the music they were playing, ‘‘was . . .. Real childlike . . . in its simplicity . . . so natural to them.’’ In one sense, Pop realizes that these men were so skilled in their musicianship that he should not even bother to imitate it, yet he undercuts their superiority by claiming musicianship was ‘‘natural’’ to them and required no practice. Here, the word ‘‘natural’’ echoes the ‘‘purity’’ that, as Waksman pointed out, white men saw in Blackness. Using the words ‘‘charming’’ and ‘‘childlike’’ solidifies his view as partially condescending; yet, it is clear by his intentions to learn from them that he respected and even loved their music. Pop’s misconceptions are wrapped up in the same harmful stereotypical tropes that MC5 imitated in their White Panther Party. Significantly, Pop’s trip to Chicago and his immersion in Black music created a direct link between Black blues music and its influence on punk. In this space, Pop appropriated Black music forms, helping to create the Stooges’ innovative musical and performance styles: I thought, what you gotta do is play your own simple blues. I could describe my experience based on the way those guys are describing theirs . . . So that’s what I did. I appropriated a lot of their vocal forms, and also their turns of phrase – either heard or misheard or twisted from blues songs. So ‘‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’’ is probably my mishearing of ‘‘Baby Please Don’t Go.’’46

Pop’s misinterpretation of the Black musicians he worked with and their ‘‘natural’’ talent, his reading that, perhaps, one did not need to practice in order to make meaningful music, merged well with his attraction to ‘‘cheap’’ sounds.47 Potentially, this marriage of low-fidelity garage rock and the misreading of Black musicianship led to punk’s groundbreaking D.I.Y. approach to music making. Pop’s decision that ‘‘. . . it was ridiculous for me to make a studious copy of it, which is what most white blues bands did,’’ is a crucial break (or perhaps the crucial break) between punk and other forms of music in the 1970s. Priding itself on being ‘‘simple,’’ straightforward, and real, punk’s very foundations can be found in Pop’s recollection. In his own performances, Pop crawled across the stage, spewing guttural growls over damaged, distorted guitar sounds: this, his own ‘‘simple blues’’ strained through his white working-class upbringing, set the foundation for punk to come.

III. ‘‘Adverse reaction’’: Death and transgression While the MC5 and the Stooges crafted their performance styles with over-the-top clothing and sexual prowess, Death chose to chart new musical territory instead. As young, working-class men, perhaps Death related more to the no-frills side of punk rock – the gaudiness of funk music, and the glitz of glitter music, might have appeared to them to be excessive, clashing aesthetically with the grim realities of Detroit’s economic and social hardships. While the Stooges dressed up in gold lame´, Death responded to the simple, dressed-down style of their peers, which looked quite similar to that of the greasers (a look also sported by early MC5). As the Hackney


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brothers remained a part of their community, they dressed casually, like many of their peers, departing from any kind of ‘‘rocker’’ image. They were exploring and experimenting through music and lyrical content, while performing a style of everyday working-class Blackness. Death wore their hair in Afros and performed in t-shirts and jeans. Donning their working-class duds, Death created music with a dedicated and sharp focus; style outside of music was intentionally secondary to the band. Death’s working-class, Detroit personas paired with their truly innovative and eccentric music left them without a solid base of either community members or fans who understood them. As music critic Milo Miles articulated, 20 years before Death began playing music, in the era of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley, rock’n’roll was perceived as ‘‘too black.’’48 Yet after British bands like the Kinks and the Beatles came to prominence, the image of the rock band evolved into that of ‘‘unconventional white guys with charming accents,’’ leaving pioneering Black guitarist Jimi Hendrix as the sole definition of Black rock by the end of the 1960s.49 Perhaps this notion, that whiteness and white rockers were more palatable to the mainstream, is partially responsible for Death’s relative isolation in the Detroit music scene. Death remained obscure within their local Black music community without breaching the scene of better-known Detroit bands like MC5 and the Stooges. Bobby Hackney recalled that they did not socialize with either band, and predominantly hung out in the inner city.50 Asked to discuss Death’s musical comrades, Bobby Hackney described the band playing ‘‘mostly obscure garage performances, private parties, [and] cabarets,’’ with ‘‘Soul bands and players,’’ and later, ‘‘with a lot of Funk/Rock players who were listening to Rock-n-Roll, but only selective artists.’’51 The band’s foray into rock’n’roll left them fairly secluded, playing obscure shows and continuing to attend rock concerts at the local arena, Cobo Hall, a venue for many emerging and established Detroit artists.52 The way Death participated in music was by making it, by avidly listening to it, and by attending live shows. However, they remained anchorless in terms of connecting with a music scene. Considering the primitiveness and blatant sexuality that white punk bands were performing based on erroneous Black tropes, perhaps Death could not be regarded as punk: Black men (actual Black men in Black bodies) would not be viewed as transgressive. If punk was centered on a transgression that white men performed through Black appropriation, then Black men literally could not participate in this. Unfortunately, the real ramifications of white supremacy may be at the heart of why Death could not be the next big punk rock band of the 1970s, or at least enjoy the success that MC5 and Stooges did. This is further complicated by Death’s music being perceived as ‘‘white’’ by their own communities. Death’s music being interpreted as ‘‘white’’ proved to be an obstacle for them. In their neighborhood, Death remained misunderstood. As Dannis recalled in an interview: we lived in a neighborhood that . . . listened to . . . black music, it was a black neighborhood. So when we came along, raising up our window, and blowing our loud rock’n’roll . . . so the whole neighborhood could hear it, it met with some adverse


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reaction. And when the adverse reaction comes at you, and you feel alone . . . your first reaction is to be angry about it . . . the music became harder, faster, you know . . . now they call it punk rock.53

Not only was the brothers’ surrounding neighborhood unfriendly to the fast-paced rock’n’roll of the late 1960s to early 1970s, but their local music scene was also relatively unaware and unprepared for it. ‘‘Being in the black community and having a rock band, people just looked at us like we was weird,’’ Hackney elaborated in an interview. ‘‘After we got done with a song, instead of cheering and clapping, people would just be looking at us,’’ he said.54 Unlike their white contemporaries, Death created and negotiated what was a convoluted punk identity. Without a music community to anchor them, Death’s musical and political selves were piecemeal, and in this sense, more genuinely punk. Their transgression was a real, tangible one: playing a combination of ‘‘Black’’ and ‘‘white’’ music yet refusing to be confined by either ‘‘white’’ or ‘‘Black’’ music standards. Death carved a space for themselves with whatever resources they had; they did not fit in anywhere. The Stooges and MC5 asserted white, male power through the vehicle of Black masculinity, reifying what essentially was a normative racial identity practice. After all, there is no shortage of the white appropriation of Blackness – tropes or otherwise – in American culture. With this in mind, there was not much ‘‘transgression’’ about the imitation that MC5 and Stooges found so integral to their own identities, to their own performances. It is Death’s refusal to enact a performance of self that was either in line with the white rock scene or that of their parent community that left them relatively isolated; ironically this lack of acceptance – or conformity – equipped them well to push sonic limits. Cultural scholar Bryant Keith Alexander discusses doing a similar dance between socio-cultural spheres in Performing Black Masculinity: Race, Culture, and Queer Identity. Alexander describes a dissonance between his identity and the perception of his ‘‘racial-cultural’’ performance: ‘‘I am perceived as a Black man trying to transcend his ‘natural’ state, elemental and unsophisticated. I am perceived as a Black man who is trying to pass for White, not based on appearance but in the metaphoric drag of linguistic performance.’’55 Alexander here explicates the cultural readings of his being a Black man in academia; the same could be said for Death’s precarious situation between the worlds of Black and white music, their non-conformity with legible Black masculinity, and their inability to access the white rock scene. Using the term ‘‘Good Man-Bad Man’’ to describe the often binary options available for cultural performance (acting ‘‘correctly’’ or ‘‘incorrectly’’ in accordance to your race, gender, or other variable identity), Alexander describes masculinity as ‘‘the performance of self for others.’’56 As Death rejected limits on all fronts and continued to pull influences from where they chose – and chose not – to, they composed music with a genuine sense of agency, and a lack of concern for aesthetic style. Death refused to perform an easily decipherable ‘‘self’’ for others. This sense of discordance has not been uncommon for Black rockers. While the punk scene at large may not have discovered Death until 2009, other Black bands, like Bad Brains, also experienced similar feelings of incompatibility or antagonism


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from the white rock scene. As Darryl Jenifer, bassist of Bad Brains stated in his essay ‘‘Play Like a White Boy: Hard Dancing in the City of Chocolate’’:

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Being a so-called black rock brother, I always had reservations about brothers attempting to appear white when performing rock. It seems to me that unless a brother breaks with the spandex, extensions, and wrestling boots, the wide white world of rock won’t really have it . . . So . . . to the new school of rock and rollers, be yourself, invent and expand the music, expand the art form; you don’t have to dress like Motley Cru¨e or play like Hendrix to be rock, all you have to do is rock the fuck out from your heart.57

Jenifer emphasizes the same lack of interest in aesthetic style, specifically clothing, that Death did. And similar to the misunderstanding that Death felt from what Jenifer deems the ‘‘wide white world of rock,’’ Bad Brains carved out both sonic and physical space for themselves. Unlike Death, though, Bad Brains accessed a predominantly white scene, something Death was unable to do. Still, Bad Brains’ call to ‘‘be yourself, invent and expand the music’’ is in the tradition of Death’s refusal to perform any specific ‘‘self’’ for their audience.58 In their precarious position between Black and white worlds, Death would soon taste success but lose it in a heartbeat. By 1974, the band had recorded seven promising songs with Groovesville Productions, a label owned and operated by Don Davis.59 Recognizing their ingenuity, Davis brought the tapes to Clive Davis, who was then between Columbia and Arista Records. Clive decided to sign the band, wrote up a contract, and gave Death an advance on the recording. After the session, Clive requested that the band change their name. The brothers refused, standing behind David’s decision, and both Groovesville and Columbia backed out of the deal. The band did not give up, and decided to release 500 copies of what would be their first single on their own label, Tryangle Records, in the fall of 1976, distributing the 45 for free at garage shows.60 Leaving this frustrating end behind them, the members of Death moved to Vermont and channeled their love for music into new bands. The songs recorded at Groovesville would finally reach a national audience in 2009, when Drag City Records released Death’s For the Whole World to See . . . The Hackney brothers’ refusal to change their name from ‘‘Death’’ to something more palatable is significant when considering themes of nihilism in Black culture. As Cornell West writes: ‘‘Nihilism is a natural consequence of a culture (or civilization) ruled and regulated by categories that mask manipulation, mastery, and domination of peoples and nature.’’61 In the following paragraphs, I draw out the meanings of Death’s lyrics, and throughout each song it is clear that Death is proverbially pulling the curtain back, exposing ‘‘categories that mask manipulation, mastery, and domination.’’ Similarly, scholar Sharon Patricia Holland proposes that a sort of exorcism exists in Black literature, focusing at first on Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Of Beloved she says: ‘‘Its ghostly presence merged with America’s worst nightmares of both past and self.’’62 Holland’s sense for such death, in this and other instances, names ‘‘the margins’’ mirroring American culture and its ‘‘subconscious machinations to disremember a shared past.’’ With both Holland and West in mind, ‘‘Death’’ by name and by location – Detroit, in the middle of a bloody clash between excessive white force and Black resistance – enacted a remembrance of death past, present, and future.


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Death exerts an exposure of manipulation even in fairly whimsical tracks, like ‘‘Rock-n-Roll Victim’’: ‘‘We love to say things that we really feel/Sometimes we see things that aren’t really real/Establishment don’t want no part of us/Except to make themselves a real quick buck.’’ Here, Bobby Hackney taps into distrust of the ‘‘establishment,’’ and the false world that the establishment has created, by singing, ‘‘Sometimes we see things that aren’t really real.’’ In ‘‘Rock-n-Roll Victim,’’ Hackney relates himself to other young rock enthusiasts, touching on a sense of clarity and truth that he and his peers achieved through rock music.63 Death’s focus on being ‘‘real’’ – as in authentic and untainted with power – is echoed in ‘‘Where Do We Go From Here???’’ when Bobby writes: ‘‘All you false pretenders and your freaky contenders trying to be the first/In my own opinion, you I’m not defending/ You are the worst.’’ As in ‘‘Rock-n-Roll Victim,’’ the phonies are still those in power, but in this track Bobby begins to elaborate on his political beliefs, criticizing the country’s leaders of the era: ‘‘You’ve made the world like a circus/and you’re trying to curse us/Cruelty knows no bounds/But we won’t let you cheat us, no we won’t let you beat us.’’ At this point, Bobby Hackney’s lyrics sound like an anthem for the Black workers of Detroit. In the context of For the Whole World to See. . ., Hackney’s lyrics make it clear that Death’s music is a vehicle for truth, that is, a vehicle to discuss the lived realities of young, Black men – perhaps his neighborhood friends or fellow rockers, and certainly his family. In Death, David and Bobby Hackney explored a sense of suffocation and stifled masculinity. This feeling of being trapped and discontent was not uncommon. Sociologist Michael S. Kimmel describes a permeating malaise in the realms of both white- and blue-collar job spheres in the 1970s; men were increasingly feeling more alienated from their work.64 As providing for one’s family or community was (is) a defining factor of masculinity, this alienation created a problem at the core of men’s lives. ‘‘You’re a Prisoner’’ illustrates a ‘‘wasted man’’ who wants to ‘‘leave the band of man’’ but is too afraid to ‘‘take that stand,’’ one who feels he wasted his life doing meaningless work and wants to leave it all. Held hostage by his few options, he’s a prisoner. The Hackney brothers illuminate the plight of young men like themselves, navigating a terrain not only of unfulfilling labor, but also of bleak options for the future. Death’s lyrics articulated the experience of their Black, working-class neighborhood in the inner city of Detroit. ‘‘Let the World Turn’’ starts off as a slow, melodic, soulful song, and the influence of Motown and R&B is evident; it also illustrates the fantastical world that serves as Death’s, or at least Hackney’s, view of the 1970s in America. The idea of an ‘‘established role’’ being tainted, or ‘‘greased with all their thoughts and ways,’’ in ‘‘Let the World Turn’’ harkens to the many fears in the minds of men in Death’s community, having witnessed or suffered at the hands of excessive police violence. With recurring imagery, Death consistently paints a picture of a world unknown to the rational human, using a vivid, dream-like sensibility. While ‘‘Where Do We Go From Here???’’ straightforwardly lays out Hackney’s mistrust of the government, ‘‘Let the World Turn’’ more poetically describes the unbelievable world that those in power have created. Here, Hackney more subtly elaborates on his oppositional mentality. The ‘‘wild trip’’ as illustrated by Hackney is


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the worldview of those in power; once you are ‘‘let off’’ the wild trip, you don’t ‘‘really know where you been’’ because the elite have been ‘‘make believing what they think is real.’’ Hackney searches for a solution to avoid being blinded by the (white) mainstream worldview: ‘‘You’ve got your life you’d better live it now/Before someone will have to show you how,’’ encouraging the listener to think for himself. With such moody, sometimes atmospheric music, Death thus alluded to the utter madness and corruption they saw in their own city as well as the country at large. A compelling and fairly outstanding facet of Death is that they run the gamut of political and social discourse, dealing with inward dissatisfaction and personal unease as well as the very real, very violent atrocities taking place in their home city and nationally.65 Death’s political consciousness hits a climax in ‘‘Where Do We Go From Here???’’ and ‘‘Politicians in my Eyes’’; the fear of being sent off to Vietnam is palpable in both songs. Again, the Hackney brothers make it clear that they distrust authority, blaming the government for ‘‘treasonous lying and thoughtless dying.’’ They allude to Watergate as they sing about ‘‘leaders stepping down greatly.’’ In ‘‘Politicians,’’ Bobby writes, ‘‘Always trying to be slick/When they tell us their lies/ They’re responsible for sending/Young men to die.’’ In hindsight, Dannis Hackney asserted that the brothers’ worst fear at this time was being drafted. Like their peers in MC5, Death used rock’n’roll as a vehicle to resist the turbulence in the world around them and create their own artistic chaos. Death critiqued the ‘‘false pretenders and freaky contenders’’ of society not only in their lyrics, but in their own matter-of-fact aesthetic; aside from their political music, their riffs were direct, their clothes were basic, and they did it all themselves. Instead of imitating anyone else, Death performed a new kind of transgression, which is at the heart of what made them punk. This transgression was characterized by a refusal to perform any perceived ‘‘self’’ that would be expected by their audiences, and also, through their immense and imaginative musical visions.

Conclusion: ‘‘Where do we go from here?’’ Death’s story, their music, and their presence in early Detroit punk provide a muchneeded key to uncovering punk history. If punk nonconformity has been defined as a performance by white men donning their perceived visions of Black masculinity, then it is no mystery that we have lost bands and cultural producers like Death along the way. A further focus on the intersections of gender and race in punk performance reveals just how central Black music and political modes of doing were to the punk imaginary, even as these are so often disavowed or disappeared. By bringing Death and other Black cultural contributions into the center of the punk narrative, we open up possibilities for new histories: how many other Deaths were there – are there? Over forty years after punk ‘‘broke,’’ it remains relevant and alive in American (sub)culture. Nguyen, writing for Punk Planet in 1998, observes: ‘‘Punk doesn’t exist in a vacuum . . . What needs to happen – on a punk-scale and a large-scale sort of way – is a revolution in the ways in which we frame ourselves within social, psychic and political relations.’’66 Nguyen was addressing the punk scene, but her comments are also essential for historical practice: the act of framing punk historically, in


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‘‘social, psychic and political relations,’’ is still rare indeed. As punk gains notoriety in the academy, it is crucial that we heed these critiques and uncover the nuances of punk’s influences, its creators, its self-generated histories, and its sensibilities.67 The navigation of social and political meaning in punk with all of its racial and gendered nuances remains relevant, and with the rediscovery of Death, could not be more apparent. In an interview with Maximum Rocknroll, the longest-running punk fanzine, Bobby elaborated on why he thought the world was ready to welcome the music of Death 40 years after its recording:

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what we were singing about is like what the country is dealing with now. We were dealing with the Vietnam War, you’re dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan. We were dealing with the social injustice, people today are dealing with social injustice. We were talking about saving the environment, and what we saw was coming and what the world was going through now.68

Hackney’s comments ring true: anxieties that concern our present times include unpopular wars and racial injustice. In such times of social unrest, American culture continues to worry at masculinity and its meaning. With these anxieties still at the center of our cultural climate, it remains imperative to make race and gender dynamics visible in our (sub)cultural practice. Anxiety, paranoia, and disenchantment with contemporary labor still lie at the core of punk rock music, a legacy that dates back to the early 1970s, when punks across the country were freakin’ out.

Notes on contributor Katherine E. (Kate) Wadkins is a Brooklyn-based writer, artist, and cultural worker who recently graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with an MA in Women’s and Gender History. She is the Editor-In-Chief of International Girl Gang Underground (2011), a compilation zine and corresponding blog about feminist cultural production 20 years after the riot grrrl movement and in the wake of its legacy. Kate is a contributing writer for Hyperallergic; her work has also appeared in the NY Daily News Page Views blog, Maximum Rocknroll and Sadie Magazine, among others. She writes about art, zines, and feminist cultural production, and also hopes to continue her research on the articulation of masculinity through Detroit punk. Kate is a founding member of For the Birds, a feminist collective. As an avid zine enthusiast and art lover, she continues to curate BRAIN WAVES, a zine and print collection located at Recession Art CultureFix in Manhattan.

Notes 1. This essay originated as a Master’s thesis in conclusion of my degree from the Women’s and Gender History program at Sarah Lawrence College. Sarah Lawrence’s Women’s History Month Conference ‘‘The Message Is In the Music: Hip Hop Feminism, Riot Grrrl, Latina Music & More’’ (in 2010) prompted me to begin this inquiry of Detroit punk – that is, of course, in conjunction with seeing Death live later that year. ‘‘Freakin’ Out’’ is influenced and informed by Mimi Thi Nguyen’s work on punk and race (including her plenary presentation at said conference), as well as that of the many punks and scholars of color mentioned herein. Many thanks are in order: first to Women & Performance editors Beth Stinson and Fiona Ngoˆ for their tireless support and feedback throughout the many rewrites of this essay. As well, to Mimi Thi Nguyen and Maxwell Tremblay for their thoughtful and essential comments and edits. Thanks too to Drs. Lyde


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K.E. Wadkins Sizer and Priscilla Murolo for their initial prodding and support during the very first iterations of ‘‘Freakin’ Out.’’ I worked through many of these concepts on a ground level with For the Birds Feminist Collective, and perhaps even more so through my collaborations with Daniela Capistrano and the People of Color Zine Project; I am humbled and gracious to have had the pleasure of working with you all. Thank you. Tate (2011, 212–16); I capitalize ‘‘Black’’ to indicate a respect for Black nationalism versus the lower-case ‘‘white’’ as merely a descriptor. I use the terms ‘‘punk’’ and ‘‘punk rock’’ loosely to discuss low-fidelity, scrappy rock bands from the early-mid 1970s, specifically those which directly influenced or interacted with the first generation of self-proclaimed punk musicians. At this time, ‘‘punk’’ was more of a sensibility rather than a stable genre. Death originally formed as ‘‘Rock Fire Funk Express’’ in 1970, though they did not play rock music until after seeing the Stooges live in 1973; see ‘‘Death: An interview with the Hackney brothers,’’ Retrophobic.com. For more information on the inception of punk rock in New York and Detroit see McNeil and McCain (1996). Duncombe and Tremblay (2011, 44–5). Jenifer (2011, 209). See Mallott and Pen˜a (2004); Kristiansen et al. (2010); and Traber (2007). The Ramones (a band from New York that popularized the first mainstream cultural images of punk rock around 1977) were influenced by rock’n’roll, including Black artists like Jimi Hendrix and Chuck Berry. See Ramone (2000, 27); and McNeil and McCain (1996, 206). Sociologists Curry Mallott and Milagros Pen˜a make this influence of Black musicians on punk music visible in their study Punk Rockers’ Revolution: A Pedagogy of Race, Class, and Gender, stating: ‘‘In white middle- and working-class communities, punk rock was. . . largely influenced by African American rock and roll . . . Punk in this light, served in part to revitalize ‘lost legions of past popular music,’’’ see Mallott and Pen˜a (2004, 50). Similarly, Greil Marcus made this connection in Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century; Duncombe and Tremblay’s White Riot collection is centered on teasing out these and many other aspects of race in the punk continuum. While women of all races have crucially contributed to the punk spectrum, I will only be discussing men in punk for the purposes of this essay. ‘‘Death: An interview,’’ Retrophobic. In this interview David is listed at age 12, Dannis at age 10, and Bobby age 8 on February 9, 1964. Ibid. Many punk historical narratives focus on white men, but I will keep the list relatively short: Marcus (1989); Beeber, though his is specifically a study of the Jewish roots of punk (2006); Traber (2007); and Kristiansen et al. (2010). Ruiz and DuBois (2000, xv). I use the word ‘‘scramble’’ because although many historians have noticed a ‘‘masculinity crisis’’ concerning American men, I concur with cultural historian Gail Bederman, who asserts that, ‘‘. . . to imply that masculinity was in crisis suggests that manhood is a transhistorical category or fixed essence. . . rather than an ideological construct which is constantly being remade.’’ The term ‘‘scramble,’’ on the other hand, implies an intentional, albeit frantic, effort to create and recreate masculinity over time. See Bederman (1995, 11). In Manliness and Civilization, Gail Bederman explains: ‘‘as white middle-class men actively worked to reinforce male power, their race became a factor which was crucial to their gender’’ (1995, 5). White middle-class men harnessed their supposed civility, which stemmed from the Victorian era, as well as the perceived ‘‘primitiveness’’ of men of color and the working class. It is a similar obsession with the primitive, and the working class, that informed much of the recreation of punk masculinity in the early 1970s. I use the terms ‘‘scene’’ and ‘‘subculture’’ interchangeably. There has been some significant debate about these words: ‘‘We use the term ‘scene’. . . rather than ‘subculture’ because the latter term presumes that a society has one commonly shared culture from


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17. 18. 19.

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20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43.

44. 45. 46. 47. 48.

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which the subculture is deviant,’’ write Andy Bennett and Richard A. Peterson in Music Scenes: Local, Translocal, and Virtual. Both ‘‘scene’’ and ‘‘subculture’’ imply a shared community of art and culture-makers, as well as their dress, music, and a sense of collective identity. For further explanation, see Bennett and Peterson (2004). Historian Isabel Wilkerson discusses the effect of the Great Migration on American music in The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (2011, 529); Wilkerson defines the Great Migration as having occurred from around 1910 to around 1970 (2011, 9–10). McNeil and McCain (1996, 35–6); and, see Thompson (2011). McNeil and McCain, 36–7. For a somewhat more in-depth description of the dark side of Warhol’s Factory and the Max’s Kansas City scene, see McNeil and McCain (1996, 14–17). Rather than explicitly referring to political issues the way that Death did, Iggy Pop used references to cultural artifacts like the Atom bomb and napalm to illustrate his own inner turmoil. ‘‘Death: An interview,’’ Retrophobic. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself was killed in 1968 while participating in a strike of Black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee; Georgakas and Surkin (1998, ix). Sugrue (2006, 259). The New York Times reported on the subject, stating that the riots were sparked by the arrest of a burglary suspect; see Flint (1967); Associated Press (wire reports) 1967. United Press International (UPI) (1967). Ibid.; Flint (1967). Associated Press (1967). Thompson (2010). Tate (2011, 216). McNeil and McCain (1996, 35–6). Ibid. Ibid., 35. Marcus (2004, 31–2). Ibid. Waksman (2011, 30–6). Hale (2002, 127–35). McNeil and McCain (1996, 45). Ibid., 46. Hale (2002, 142). Mailer (2008, 142). Waksman (2011, 31). McNeil and McCain (1996, 36–7). Ibid., 37. This remains a prevailing theme in punk to this day. As Mimi Nguyen wrote in 1998: ‘‘Take the way in which travel gets talked about in punk. . . [it] is almost always about leisure, self-discovery, ‘freedom,’ and rarely ever about immigration, refugee movement, or exile. It’s never about how some people – white, heterosexual, middle-class, male – often travel in more comfort than others –nonwhite, queer, poor, female).’’ Nguyen (2010). Strongman (2007, 33). McNeil and McCain (1996, 37). Ibid., 37–8. In Please Kill Me, Pop describes the music of Velvet Underground (a New York band he admired) as ‘‘so cheap’’ and ‘‘yet so good,’’ solidifying the D.I.Y. and low-fidelity sounds that would pave the way for punk rock. McNeil and McCain (1996, 48–49). See Miles (2009).


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49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62. 63.

64. 65. 66. 67.

68.

K.E. Wadkins Ibid. Ibid. Bobby Hackney, e-mail message to author, April 15, 2011. Thompson (2010). Glickman (2010, 72). Thompson (2010). Alexander (2006, 74, 77). Ibid., 75–7. Jenifer (2011, 212). Ibid. ‘‘Death,’’ Retrophobic; Death, . . . For the Whole World to See. ‘‘Death,’’ Retrophobic; Thompson (2010). Don Davis has no relationship to Clive Davis. A ‘‘45’’ is a 7-inch vinyl record single, and is nicknamed as such due to the speed at which the record plays. West (1999, 208). Holland (2000, 2). All tracks listed in this article are from Death’s first official release, . . . For the Whole World to See. Any of Death’s lyrics or song titles that have been reprinted in this article are by David and Bobby Hackney, copyright 1975, Elect Music Publishing, BMI. Lyrics reprinted courtesy of Death and Drag City Inc. Kimmel (2006, 174–6). ‘‘Death: An interview,’’ Retrophobic. Nguyen (2010). While punk has proliferated to a small extent in the academy since Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style (1979), recent publications from 2011 onward include Duncombe and Tremblay’s White Riot (2011), as well as Punkademics: The Basement Show in the Ivory Tower edited by Zack Furness (2012), and this special issue of Women & Performance, entitled ‘‘Punk Anteriors’’ (2012). Glickman (2010, 74).

References Alexander, Bryant Keith. 2006. Performing Black Masculinity: Race, Culture, and Queer Identity. Lanham: Alta MiraPress. Associated Press (wire reports). 1967. ‘‘Detroit is Swept by Rioting and Fires; Romney Calls in Guard; 700 Arrested.’’ New York Times, 24 July. Bederman, Gail. 1995. Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880–1917. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Beeber, Steven Lee. 2006. The Heebie Heebies at CBGB’s: A Secret History of Jewish Punk. Chicago: Chicago Review Press. Bennett, Andy, and Richard A. Peterson, eds. 2004. Music Scenes: Local, Translocal, and Virtual. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press. Death. 2009. . . . For the Whole World to See. LP. Drag City Records 387. ———. 2011. Spiritual, Mental, Physical. LP. Drag City Records 447. Death: An Interview with the Hackney Brothers. Retrophobic. Accessed January 17, 2011. http://www.retrophobic.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=633:death-an-interview-with-the-hackney-brothers


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Duncombe, Stephen, and Maxwell Tremblay, eds. 2011. White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of Race. New York: Verso Books. Flint, Jerry M. 1967. ‘‘Riot Death Toll in Detroit Now 41.’’ New York Times, 5 August. Furness, Zack, ed. 2012. Punkademics: The Basement Show in the Ivory Tower. Brooklyn, NY: Minor Compositions. Georgakas, Dan, and Marvin Surkin. 1998. Detroit: I Do Mind Dying: A Study in Urban Revolution. Cambridge: South End Press. Glickman, David. 2010. ‘‘Death.’’ Maximum Rocknroll 322 (March). Hackney, Bobby. 2011. ‘‘Death story.’’ Death. Accessed January 17. http://www.deathfromdetroit.com/Deathweb13.htm ———. Email message to author. April 15, 2011. Hale, Jeff A. 2002. ‘‘The White Panthers’ ‘Total Assault on Culture.’’’ In Imagine Nation: The American Counterculture of the 1960s & ‘70s, edited by Peter Braunstein and Michael William Doyle, 125–156. New York: Routledge. Hebdige, Dick. 1979. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. New York: Routledge. Holland, Sharon Patricia. 2000. Raising the Dead: Readings of Death and (Black) Subjectivity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Jenifer, Darryl. 2011. Play Like a White Boy: Hard Dancing in the City of Chocolate. In Duncombe and Tremblay, 207–212. Kimmel, Michael S. 2006. Manhood in America. New York: Oxford University Press. Kristiansen, Lars, Joseph Blaney, Philip Chidester, and Brent Simonds. 2010. Screaming for Change: Articulating a Unifying Philosophy of Punk Rock. Lanham: Lexington Books. McNeil, Legs and Gillian McCain, eds. 1996. Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. New York: Grove Press. Mailer, Norman. 2008. Miami and the Siege of Chicago. New York: New York Review of Books Classics. Mallott, Curry, and Milagros Pen˜a. 2004. Punk Rockers’ Revolution: A Pedagogy of Race, Class, and Gender. New York: Peter Lang. Marcus, Greil. 1989. Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Miles, Milo. 2009. ‘‘The Music of Death, Alive Again.’’ NPR Music. Fresh Air from WHYY, 1 April. Accessed May 1, 2011. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php? storyId=102598581 Nguyen, Mimi Thi. 1997. Evolution of a Race Riot. Berkeley, CA: Self-published. ———. 2000. Race riot 2. Berkeley, CA: self-published. ———. 2010. ‘‘It’s (Not) a White World: Looking for Race in Punk (NOV/DEC 1998).’’ Thread and Circuits, 14 March. Accessed April 2. http://threadandcircuits.wordpress.com/2010/03/14/its-not-a-white-world-looking-for-race-in-punk-1998 Ramone, Dee Dee, and Veronica Kaufmann. 2000. Lobotomy: Surviving the Ramones. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press. Ruiz, Vicki L., and Ellen Carol DuBois, eds. 2000. Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women’s History. New York: Routledge. Spooner, James. 2006. Afro-Punk: The ‘Rock n Roll Nigger’ Experience. DVD. Directed by James Spooner. Chatsworth, CA: Image Entertainment. Strongman, Phil. 2007. Pretty Vacant: A History of Punk. London: Orion Books. Sugrue, Thomas J. 1996. The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


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Tate, Greg. 2011. Hardcore of Darkness: Bad Brains. In Duncombe and Tremblay, 212–216. Thompson, Stephen. 2010. ‘‘Death: A ‘70s Rock Trailblazer, Reborn.’’ NPR Music, March 17. Accessed November 6, 2011. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId= 124710357 Traber, Daniel S. 2007. Whiteness, Otherness, and the Individualism Paradox from Huck to Punk. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. United Press International (UPI). 1967. ‘‘3 Officers Charged in Detroit Beatings.’’ New York Times, August 24. Waksman, Steve. 2011. Kick Out the Jams!: The MC5 and the Politics of Noise. In Duncombe and Tremblay, 30–37. West, Cornel. 1999. ‘‘Nietzsche’s Prefiguration of Postmodern American Philosophy.’’ In The Cornel West Reader, 188–211. New York: Basic Civitas Books. Wilkerson, Isabel. 2011. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. New York: Vintage Books.


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Writing Zines, Playing Music, and Being a Black Punk Feminist: An Interview with Osa Atoe Elizabeth Stinson*

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Department of Performance Studies, New York University, NY, USA This interview with Osa Atoe delves into her thoughts on the massive questions around punk, race, and feminism. Atoe discusses her fanzine Shotgun Seamstress and her experiences in various punk scenes in the U.S. The ‘‘feel’’ of the interview concerns punk magazine aesthetics and academic ecology. Keywords: punk; feminism; race; racism; class; music; zines; festivals; community

Since 2006, Osa Atoe has turned out six issues of her zine Shotgun Seamstress; issue six was in the Maximum Rocknroll zine top 10 (no. 344, January 2012). In addition to punk rock, the Shotgun Seamstress zine series covers the topics of Money, Outsider Art, D.I.Y., Hair, and Traveling, among others. The main focus of Atoe’s zine is, of course, Music, Art, and Performance, and she includes numerous reviews, comics, and articles written by herself or other black punks as well as interviews with some of her favorite artists such as ESG, Aye Nako, Poly Styrene, and Purple Rhinestone Eagle. Each Shotgun Seamstress issue is available online or in paper form as a limited-edition box set through Portland, OR-based M’Lady Records. Atoe is a frequent columnist and contributor to Maximum Rocknroll and is working on a new fanzine, Hiss & Shake. She is also a musician, and her bands The New Bloods and Firebrand have several releases available. The New Bloods, an allfemale project with many jagged yet fluid layers, have a 700 that is still available through Raw Sugar Records and a full-length record on Kill Rock Stars. Firebrand has a demo tape out on No More Fiction tapes. Although The New Bloods are no longer performing, you can still catch Firebrand. She spoke about her zine work at the ‘‘Meet Me at the Race Riot: People of Color in Zines from 1990 to Today’’ event that took place at Barnard College on November 17, 2011, organized by the Barnard Zine Library, the POC Zine Project, and For the Birds Collective. After hearing her talk, Fiona Ngoˆ and I decided to include an interview with her in the issue. The interview was constructed over email during the first half of 2012. During this time Atoe was on tour with ‘‘Meet Me at the

*Email: stinson@nyu.edu ISSN 0740–770X print/ISSN 1748–5819 online ! 2012 Women & Performance Project Inc. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2012.721084 http://www.tandfonline.com


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Figure 1. Osa Atoe/Shotgun Seamstress.

Race Riot,’’ an ongoing event that includes other POC (People of Color) zinesters, including contributor Mimi Nguyen. Elizabeth A. Stinson ***** Elizabeth Stinson (ES): At the ‘‘Meet me at the Race Riot’’ event last year at Barnard, you revealed that the recent issue #6 of Shotgun Seamstress (SS) would be your last release of this particular zine. At the beginning of SS #6, you state that you started by wanting to make a more celebratory zine about being a black punk and


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move away from angry, personal zines. And, in the end, you express a personal assertion of that awareness, which you came to through the process of making the six issues of SS. In what ways did this choice and focus provide this transformation?

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Osa Atoe (OA): Instead of focusing on criticizing or critiquing my peer group, I wanted to provide images and writing that reinforced my own identity as a black, queer, punk musician and also that made D.I.Y. culture and anti-consumerist ideals accessible to other black people. My own identity was strengthened through the process of providing six issues worth of examples of other black queers, feminists, punks, artists, and musicians. Instead of seeing my own identity as some sort of novelty or error, I found comfort, empowerment, and pride through interviewing folks like Kali Boyce, Mick Collins, Rachel Aggs, and many others. ES: Did you make a shift in your own perception of punk by doing that? How was your identity strengthened as a result of this shift? Was there something more than empowerment, pride, and comfort? The discomfort is still there and there are still claims of being anti-racist, but you reached out to other black punks. Through this shift did you find other punk ways to counter those hypocritical claims? I mean, it’s obvious to me that the anti-racist claims of those punk peers were not so punk after all; your zine did demonstrate this even though that was not your intention. OA: I will say that making Shotgun Seamstress put me in touch with more black punks than I would have met if I hadn’t made the zine. I don’t think I found a ‘‘new punk identity’’ through making the SS zine. Like I said previously, I made the zine to reinforce an already established identity, not to form a new one. And I definitely wasn’t trying to counter those hypocritical anti-racist claims. The point of making that zine wasn’t to have more dialogue with white people. The point was to put all of the emphasis and attention on black punks; not to continue arguing with or criticizing white people. The whole point of the zine was to quit thinking about what white people think about because I don’t care. If my perception of punk has changed at all, it’s due to moving all around the country, not to making that zine. ES: How would you find sources for your zine? Do you think of yourself as an archivist? In your opinion, what does archiving do? OA: No, I don’t consider myself an archivist, nor a collector. I make a fanzine so I cover stuff that I am a fan of. I’ve loved the Gories for years, so I interviewed Mick Collins. I’ve been a Void fan for years, so I wrote a little piece on Bubba Dupree. As soon as I heard Trash Kit, I knew I wanted to find them and interview them, and so on. It’s all very natural. For images, I used the hell out of this book called Banned in DC, which was a photo-history book of the Washington, DC early 80s hardcore/ punk scene made by Cynthia Connolly, Sharon Cheslow, and Leslie Clague. I used images from the Internet and from library books, too. Also, the article ‘‘Black Punk Time: Blacks in Punk, New Wave and Hardcore 1976–1984’’ has been invaluable. I’m not really into the idea of archiving, although I’m sure it’s a great thing for some. I am actually embarrassed by how many records I have and I’m always trying to get rid of the ones I haven’t listened to in a while. I’m embarrassed by how much I love them. In my opinion, it’s more important to just enjoy art than to aspire to own it.


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Figure 2. Atoe from SS #2.

ES: ‘‘Black punk time’’ is an invaluable resource; at least someone is archiving. I think you do a little of it. There is totally a distinction between fanzines and archives, but I think (fan)zines can behave like archives at times – documenting a time, a scene, numerous sites and sources, etc. You too have compiled invaluable material about black punk. OA: Okay, so the term archivist instantly made me think of grabby little ‘‘punk’’ Internet shoppers that need to have every little limited edition, out-of-print piece of punk paraphernalia. If you want to see me as an archivist, that’s fine and I’m not offended, but for the record this is what Wikipedia says an archivist is: an archivist is a professional who assesses, collects, organizes, preserves, maintains control over, and provides access to information determined to have long-term value . . . And I have to say that I maybe only relate to a quarter of that definition. ES: What’s the story behind the title? OA: The title Shotgun Seamstress came from my mom. When I sew, I usually do a pretty quick, shoddy job and so my mom called me a shotgun seamstress. When I told her that the name of my zine came from her, she had no recollection of ever calling me that. ES: Do you consider yourself a feminist? How is feminism defined for you and lived?


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OA: Hell, yes. I guess at this point, feminism is just another term for social justice to me. It’s most commonly defined as a movement that advocates equal rights for women, but it’s so much more than that. I wrote a column called ‘‘Feminist Power’’ for Maximum Rocknroll last year that defines more thoroughly my ideas about what feminism means exactly. It’s a couple of pages long – I don’t think I have the space here to be that thorough. Also, my politics are anti-consumerist and anti-capitalist in their very foundation. How is this lived for me? As I get older, it gets harder and harder to explain it because it’s become second nature. I live communally, I have deep platonic, romantic, and artistic relationships with women, I am constantly aware of how capitalistic ways of thinking and behaving are present in everyday life and I try my best to steer clear of that. Honestly, you asked too big of a question! ES: I know, being a feminist is immense! I suppose the self-conscious reflection is as well, but since this is a punk issue in an academic feminist journal I thought I’d dive right in to how they might speak to one another. In your experience, are they one and the same? In that column ‘‘Feminist Power’’ you are responding to Venus magazine’s new post-feminism approach and mentioned that you read Amy Allen’s book on feminism and talked about the relation between power and skill-sharing – ‘‘fostering growth’’ rather than submission. I wonder if post-like responses like Venus’s are simply removing that fostering aspect altogether because it’s too much ‘‘work’’? OA: It is my assumption that the creators of magazines such as Venus do not define feminism as a redefinition of power. I assume that they think of feminism in the second-wave sense of women being seen as equal to men in society. I wrote that article so that people, especially young people, have a piece of writing to refer to that describes feminism in a more nuanced way that is also still practical and accessible. My feminism doesn’t use the traditional male role as the standard to which we should aspire. I don’t care to see more women falling into traditionally male roles. I mean, it’s fine when that happens, but that’s not the point. The point is to ‘‘subvert the dominant paradigm.’’ (Did hippies invent that phrase?) Marginalized groups in society always make the error of thinking that liberation from oppression comes through mimicking the values and activities of white, male, heterosexual, middle, and upper-class America. I disagree. I think that there needs to be a new standard based on anti-materialism and mutual aid. Those are concepts that actually liberate people. ES: And by living communally, do you mean in a group house with a name and all? OA: Yes, group house, but no name. ES: So then, how do you actually define punk? Is it just aesthetics? Do you agree with Chris Sutton (from SS #2) that punk is ‘‘black music played fast’’? What draws you (in)to it? You mention many of the art and political aspects of punk in your zines, but how does a punk contribution move away from mass consumption of art and education that you critique in issues three and four? What keeps the ‘‘critical rebellion’’ approach active, as Don Letts implies in issue two? How might the ‘‘black radical tradition’’ collide with punk? And what annoys you about punk’s narratives and histories? In your MRR column in issue two you talk about the subtle racism and disturbing ways other punks around town mistake you for Brontez or Jamilah;


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Figure 3. Atoe from SS #1.

how do you think these and other forms of racism might become incorporated into the histories and narratives told about punk and what gets archived? OA: I don’t define punk, but then again I do. In this article I wrote in SS #5 called ‘‘DIY or DIE!’’ I said this: Punk is a slightly different beast depending on what country, city or town yr in and even within the same city, there might be several different punk scenes that are more or less separate. As soon as I start saying things like, ‘‘This is what punk rock is really about,’’ I know I’m already getting into trouble because no one gets to say what punk is. No one owns it. And in reality, punk rock ranges from Christian punk to radical queer punk; from drunk white boys annihilating each other in a mosh pit to anarcho-feminist reading groups. These characteristics can be found outside of punk rock too, in the lives of activists, artists, hippies and other wingnuts who are not necessarily affiliated with


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any ‘‘scene’’ per se. Things like communal living; anti-consumerism; DIY music and art making; feminist, anti-capitalist (including but not limited to socialist & Marxist), anarchist, anti-war, and environmentalist beliefs.

You keep asking big questions, so I’m giving you big answers! No, it’s not just aesthetics. The Blues birthed Rock N Roll and RNR birthed punk, but punk rock is kinda like starting from scratch. It’s a deconstruction. I love a subgenre that some people call ‘‘post-punk’’ or ‘‘art punk’’ because it’s even more of a deconstruction. I’m not sure what draws me to it. So many people I know say ‘‘anger’’ but I’ve never been that kind of pissed off. I think initially, it had to do with the fact that it combines art with politics. I think that if I wasn’t so in love with punk music, I wouldn’t be so in love with punk in general. But also, like I said, before I identified as a punk, I was a teenager reading Adbusters and thinking about how rampant and wasteful consumerism ruins everything. So, punk was a way for me to combine good music with good politics. It helped me live a life of integrity but not in a dry, martyrlike way. Punk is fun. I love punk music because it’s so obvious and simple. No frills, no production, no big budgets, low-technology, no pretenses, more emphasis on passionate delivery than technique. Anyone can do it. You’d have to define what you mean by the ‘‘black radical tradition’’ for me to be able to tell you how and if I think it collides with punk. I think that punks, especially young ones, sometimes assume that D.I.Y. practices were invented by other young white punks when in fact brown folks, poor folks, etc. have been using these techniques out of necessity for years. That’s why I wrote that article about gogo music in Issue #2 to show that black folks have always participated in D.I.Y. music making. Bo Diddley built his own instruments. So did white old-time mountain musicians in the south . . . I don’t get very annoyed when I read punk history. I either skip it if I think it’s going to be boring or I get really excited about it because I love punk. In the Decline of Western Civilization I, Darby Crash uses the term ‘‘wetback’’ when he’s talking about a Mexican person. Yet, he also formed Germs with a person of color, Pat Smear, who is bi-racial. Do I think Darby Crash hated people of color? No. Did hearing him use that word make me uncomfortable? Yes. Darby Crash is probably one of the most revered figures in punk rock. I can see his genius and I can see his shortcomings. That’s pretty much how I feel about punk history in general. I see the genius and I see the shortcomings. But my approach has always been to take what I need from an ideology or a movement and leave the rest behind. Also, that’s why making my zine was important to me . . . because I found punks who were black and queer and radical and I didn’t have to have mixed feelings about what they were saying because they were coming from a similar standpoint as me and I largely agreed with them. So in that way, it was my way of not letting white folks define what punk is for me. I got to talk to other black folks about their relationship to punk rock. I got to hear other black folks talk about how formative and important punk rock was for them and it helped me feel comfortable with my own love for punk. I think the main way that racism is incorporated into punk narratives and punk history is through omission. Like how that new riot grrl book left out the


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Figure 4. Leah Newbold, ‘‘On Class, Punk, Organizing and Anti-affluence Activism’’ from SS #3.

contributions of so many brown riot girl feminists. That shit is frustrating and unacceptable. All in all, I see punks as being more open-minded than our mainstream counterparts. I don’t like to spend too much time nitpicking about what’s fucked up inside punk because as soon as I set my gaze on mainstream society, I am far more horrified. Punk’s not perfect, but nothing is. I think we’re all doing a pretty good job. ES: I definitely agree with the omission and the shortcomings of punk genealogy, which is something that continually happens in most historical narratives. Why should this punk manifestation be any different? Interesting that you say big questions . . . I’m imagining us sitting on top of a mountain overlooking the ocean way into the horizon talking about whether we believe there is life after death – the BIG questions. Seriously? Maybe my awkward struggle to reconcile graduate school and punk is the culprit. In the ‘‘DIY or DIE!’’ section of issue #5 you comment on capitalism’s role in racism and the poverty and incarceration of black people. I’m not an expert in the ‘‘black radical tradition’’ either, but I know that Cedric Robinson began talking about it in his book, Black Marxism, as a combination of black intellectual life and ethical/political resistance through discursive living. I was thinking of your reference to being drawn to the relations of art and politics, along with the race and queerdom strands of belonging in punk as a ‘‘critical rebellion.’’ I tend to gravitate towards the notion that punk has been around for an extremely long time, that any form of underground or counter expressive and aesthetic form is punk in some way, we just don’t hear much about them. Of course, the word ‘‘punk’’ also has numerous meanings that perhaps all lead back to the underdog, perhaps with his tail between his legs, but I mean the one who bites back in some way. Becoming comfortable with punk is another thing entirely, and it just seems singularly ill-matched to what punk is ostensibly, that one would have to go through an individual process of becoming comfortable with punk. There are those external trappings and situated shortcomings that aim to articulate punk for you. OA: That is an interesting comment. Yeah, punk isn’t about being comfortable and I’m understanding that on a whole new level now that I’m 33 years old. When I first


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got into punk, it was an impulse, not a decision. It was something I gravitated toward, related to, and found myself surrounded by accident. It wasn’t until later that I had to rethink that impulse. And that didn’t have so much to do with punk as a tool, a way of doing things or an aesthetic. I’ve never had to rethink D.I.Y. I was just dealing with the contradictions of an all-white punk and activist community that also considered itself anti-racist. It felt weird and fake because I was in Portland, Oregon, you know? And then in the midst of that, I got my hands on Evolution of a Race Riot zine and other zines by brown punks who were also noticing the contradictions and hypocrisy and were pissed about it. It led me to begin rethinking my own relationship to punk. At some point, I felt pressure to leave punk behind and find a people of color community. I moved to Oakland, California when I was in that phase. I ended up just hanging out with brown punks who were all sick of hanging out with only white people all the time. But I couldn’t hack it in Oakland so I came back to Portland and that’s when I started making Shotgun Seamstress. ES: In issue #4, in Dymo-label-gun lettering, during an interview with James Spooner, I think it was you that stated, ‘‘Honestly at this point I don’t know how punk you could call afro-punk.’’ Is this thought due to the corporate sponsorship of the festivals? On your blog, you talk about how you wish it were a scene; is it a scene, as some in N.Y.C say it is? Do you find it to be more of an after-thought in some way or indicative of something more interesting? Do scenes even matter? Did you want to create or contribute to a scene or a community through your zine? OA: James Spooner said that, not me. And yes, I believe he said that because of the corporate-sponsored festivals, or more specifically because Afro-Punk festivals and the Afro-Punk website are not D.I.Y. phenomena. The shows happen in clubs with security, the websites advertise Afro-Punk products like Vans sneakers with AfroPunk logos on them and expensive Afro-Punk posters. I just want to say that AfroPunk is a worthwhile thing and something I myself have benefited from. When I made SS #1, I went on the Afro-Punk message board and announced that I would send a free zine to any Afro-Punk kid who wanted one. Before the creation of such a forum, there would have been no way for me to reach 60 black alterna-culture folks at one time. However, Afro-Punk is not anti-capitalist or D.I.Y. in its foundation and that is sad to me. Black folks don’t need another product to buy; we need personal, economic, and artistic liberation. Scenes matter. Community matters. Shotgun Seamstress was an attempt to create community but in a non-geographical kind of way. Black punks will never have the numbers to form a tangible real-life scene . . . Although I heard from a friend of mine living outside of Chicago that they recently had a show where almost 20 black kids showed up and moshed their hearts out . . . That’s something I’ve never seen with my own eyes. My black punk community is international. I write letters and e-mails and share two-hour-long phone calls with black punks in California, Illinois, Michigan, Quebec, London, and beyond. That’s how badly we need each other and how much we love each other. Shotgun Seamstress helped to make this happen, and so did Adee Roberson’s zine Finger on the Trigger, and so did zines by Lauren Martin, Bianca


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Figure 5. Cover of SS #3.

Ortiz, Leah Lakshmi, and many others. In the same way that zines connected riot girls internationally, zines create an international community for brown punks. ES: Reading other zines and letters in MRR, not to mention the Afro-punk movie and Tremblay and Duncombe’s book White Riot, there are some specific discussions about the duality and doubleness of being black AND punk. In your experience, why is this coupling, or often even discrete identifications, necessary or not? When do they overlap? Or, is it necessary for the two to remain in flux and unsettled? OA: While most concepts remain, in reality, in flux and unsettled, I kind of hate to admit it because then the conversation seems to become abstract and academic and


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therefore inaccessible to most. Additionally, I thought we already learned from thirdwave feminist writers like Audre Lorde that identities can’t and shouldn’t be dissected. I’m not sure if I find a ‘‘duality’’ or ‘‘doubleness’’ in being black and punk. I find a wholeness in it. Punk and black are just two of many identities that comprise me. The Shotgun Seamstress zine shows how the identities black and punk flow seamlessly within a number of different individuals. The point of my zine is to show that these identities co-exist naturally and effortlessly within the bodies of artists like Vaginal Creme Davis, HR of Bad Brains, Brontez Purnell of Gravy Train & The Younger Lovers, and many more. James Spooner had a different experience than I did. He writes about having been asked to decide between identifying as black or punk. I was never confronted with that choice. I always knew I could have it all and that’s what I tried to show other black kids through my zine, so maybe that’s why this question is difficult for me to answer. ES: Yes, I agree, there is no one identity; everybody has many different experiences and beings. Perhaps the subtle racism that occurs in scenes, the desire of appropriation, authenticity, and even property in punk, leans on a homogenized version of punk and comes across as a white culture thing and (in)directly asks for that distinction. In the last issue of SS, you had a chance to interview Poly Styrene, the ‘‘Captain of the Brown Underground,’’ before she died; what did you make of some of her responses regarding race and racism in punk? Some women of color punks from the 1970s tend to highlight a more ‘‘integrated’’ scene of acceptance and camaraderie at that time; have you noticed this as well? OA: I think that I would’ve liked it if Poly Styrene had a more militant, ‘‘fuck you’’ perspective about being one of the only brown girls in a sea of white punks, but wanting that is selfish. I’m glad that she was much more well-adjusted than that, and in all honesty, I relate. She says she grew up being comfortable in a variety of racial contexts. I grew up the same way. My family is black, most of my friends in school were black or immigrants’ kids, but my family went to a white church . . . I can roll with any group of people. Yes, I have noticed a bit of an attitude of color blindness with punks from the 1970s. I can’t speak much about women of color specifically because their perspectives are few and haven’t been well documented. (I haven’t read Alice Bag’s new book, but I am eager to.) While this attitude is most likely a bit naive, I also realize and relate to the fact that punk is a refuge for misfits and Poly Styrene was most definitely a misfit. It seems to me that as a teenager, her biggest battle may not have been with racism, but with the fact that she was probably considered completely nuts by most of her peers and sought refuge in punk. Instead of self-destructing she found a way to stay strong in her identity and celebrate her individuality. There’s this thing when freaks meet other freaks or when punks meet other punks – they don’t care if you’re queer or black or whatever, they just want to unite around this freak identity or punk identity that they have in common. So to those who prioritize racial identity, this may seem like naive colorblind mentality, but if you’re a punk rock misfit, you understand the power of finding someone else and relating to them on that level in spite of differences in other social identities.


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Figure 6. Cover of SS #2.

ES: It’s a common intimacy almost, which sounds very utopic. Your band based in Portland, OR, New Bloods, was that your first band? How did your creative participation and writing start? How did you like performing? What were your shows like? OA: New Bloods was like my twelfth band! It started in a basement in NE Portland like any other band I’d ever started. No expectations, no goals, no concepts. I was an


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anxious wreck – panic attacks and all – and my other two bandmates probably won’t mind me saying that they weren’t in the prime of their mental health either. But New Bloods made us all healthier somehow. When I played shows, I felt like I couldn’t feel the music as much as I wished I could. I like our songs better now because I can listen and enjoy it and not worry about playing the wrong notes or the fact that there’s a million eyeballs on me. Also, I think I hit my musical prime after New Bloods. I enjoy playing music even more now and I’m a more relaxed bandmate now than I was then. I can feel music more deeply now when I play it. Our shows were very diverse and I’ll always be proud of that. We played living rooms, basements, art galleries, bike shops, bars, backyards, record stores, and maybe a tiny handful of big stages with bigger bands like The Gossip. We brought out lots of queer kids and brown kids that might not have typically come out for a punk show. I loved watching people dance and make out to our band when we played live. ES: I remember hearing about all the makeout parties in Portland when I lived in Olympia. The New Bloods had a lovely folky punk sound. Where does the name come from? Have you played many different instruments in your bands? What attracted you to the violin? OA: The name came from a conversation we were having after practice. It was just about how Cassia and Adee were new to town . . . breathing new blood into Portland’s music scene or something. New Bloods. That’s how I remember it, anyway. We thought it sounded cool for a second and then we thought it was dumb but then we just kept it. Also, there’s that post-punk funky early 80s NYC band called The Bloods and we liked that our name kinda matched theirs. I think of myself as a bass player but I’ve been playing drums a lot in bands lately. I’ve been playing violin since I was a kid. I learned in elementary school. I don’t really play that often anymore. I don’t like that the violin is such a novelty to people. ES: In #2 (2007), a Women of Color Punk Workshop that occurred in Portland is mentioned, the B.A.B.E. (Breaking Assumptions and Barriers to Equality) Fest. Can you tell us more about your role in the workshop, what it was like, and what came out of it? OA: I just decided to do a presentation on women of color in punk rock so I made my own list of ladies I already knew about and then I asked my brown punk lady friends for their input and then I made enlarged Xerox copies of pictures of people like Maddog Carla from the Controllers and Alice Bag and what not so that people could be inspired by the images of these bad ass ladies who had come before us . . . And I also had a zine table of all these w.o.c. zines I’d collected over the years. Near the end, we had lots of time to talk about our own experiences as brown ladies in the punk scene. It was pretty wholesome and inspiring. My biggest memory from the workshop was there was this Latina crusty punk girl who had a little rat running around her neck the whole time. ES: There is always one person like that at punk events it seems. Do you think you’ll have another B.A.B.E. Fest in New Orleans?


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OA: Maybe.

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ES: What projects are you interested in turning to now? Are there New Orleans communities you are involved in? OA: I think I’m done with No More Fiction, or at least it’s going to be less active than it was before. NMF is/was D.I.Y. all-ages shows for queer, all-girl, and femalefronted bands in New Orleans. I put on about 50 shows in a two-year span and now I’m tired. Good thing there are already lots of strong women doing great things in the music scene here . . . I’m also a part of the Crescent City Childcare Collective (http://ccccollective.wordpress.com/). We provide free childcare for community organizations and activist groups so radical parents can do the work they do without the added stress of worrying about childcare. I’m in an post punk band called VHS. It sounds like if Quix*o*tic and Flipper had a baby. I play drums but we can’t play at the moment because our bassist broke her femur. In New Orleans, I’m a part of the D.I.Y./punk music scene and the punk scene in general (the political punks, the notso-political punks, etc.) Also, I’m a barista and this is a small city so everywhere I go, someone’s like, ‘‘Hey, it’s the coffee girl!’’ ES: Yes, that descriptive mix of your new band sounds amazing! I used to have a tape of Flipper that cracked me up every time. Wasn’t there a No More Fiction festival last year that you were involved in? OA: There was going to be but then it didn’t happen. If it had, I would’ve felt like a hypocrite, anyway, because I kinda hate fests. Too many people, too much going on, too short of an attention span. I liked Ladyfest Olympia 2000, though. ES: Thanks Osa, look forward to talking with you again one day. OA: Thanks for interviewing me!

Notes on contributor Elizabeth Stinson is a Ph.D. Candidate in Performance Studies at New York University. Her dissertation researches transnational networks, development, and postcoloniality. She grew up in Los Angeles, CA, where she used her brother, who was a bartender, to see free shows at the Starwood Club on Santa Monica Blvd, played in several bands, and wrote zines. After receiving a B.A. from California State University, Los Angeles in Theatre Arts, she went to University of California, Irvine for an M.F.A. in Acting/Drama, of all things. Prior to moving to New York for academic studies, Beth resided in Olympia, WA, where she performed with various groups and joined forces to organize several events and festivals including Ladyfest and Homo A Gogo. She recently published a chapter, ‘‘Zombified Capital in the Neocolonial Capital: Circulation (of Blood) in Sony Labou Tansi’s Parentheses of Blood,’’ in Race, Oppression, and the Zombie, edited by C. Moreman and C. J. Rushton. She is also on the Editorial Board for Women & Performance: A journal of feminist theory.


Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory Vol. 22, Nos. 2–3, July–November 2012, 275–311

Means of Detection: A Critical Archiving of Black Feminism and Punk Performance Elizabeth Stinson*

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Department of Performance Studies, New York University, NY, USA This article recalibrates genealogies of punk by focusing on a black feminist reading of four punk performances. By spending time with Poly Styrene, Tamar-kali, M.J. Zilla, and Janelle Mona´e and the sound they produce, the historical rendering of punk takes on a new shape, one that is more inclusive of women of color and the presence of black female sexualities. As a way of drawing together black feminism and punk scholarship, two separate uses of a metaphoric ‘‘black hole’’ are analyzed and become entangled in the act of archiving these black feminist contributions to the world of punk rock. Evelynn Hammonds attends to the ‘‘black (w)hole’’ trope to prompt more analysis and admission of a wider range of black female sexualities and their potential. The other, by Dick Hebdige, uses ‘‘black hole’’ to operate as a challenge for punk to carefully unravel the logic of origin, race, and racism. The ‘‘black (w)hole’’ trope pivots around two senses of ‘‘record’’: the record(ing) of sound and the historical record. This trope, and its play on space, then turns on the mechanisms and performances of race, gender, and sexuality that simultaneously engage not only feminism’s pasts and futures, but punk’s as well. The materialization of sound and its aesthetic becomes key in this engagement with black feminism and its performances of resistance. What finally emerges is the question that Jacques Derrida came to when faced with the idea of the origin of Nature and the supplement of its presence in performance: is it possible to arrive at either an origin or a presence (even one that has been absent) when the logic of its supplement continually adds and subtracts? What then does the space of the supplement offer? Keywords: black feminism; punk; race; gender; sexuality; sonic performance; black hole; archive; supplement

Punks, contrary to their ne’er-do-well reputation and aesthetic, can be curiously protective of how they are represented and cautious of the published versions their histories receive; yet, despite efforts to the contrary, grand narratives abound, and, as Osa Atoe submits, ‘‘punk rock can still be so ahistorical,’’1 in that concessions toward white-boy punk continually surface. Punk has no one origin, although its genealogies have also been constrained and whitewashed. The overwhelming

*Email: stinson@nyu.edu ISSN 0740–770X print/ISSN 1748–5819 online ! 2012 Women & Performance Project Inc. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2012.720827 http://www.tandfonline.com


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majority of punk rock musicians are white males2 and a staggering number of them end up focusing on stale, homogenized social politics and a rote ‘‘punk’’ stance and style. The ultimate goal of this project, then, is to bring together articulations of gender and race within punk genealogies, and to locate a ‘‘simultaneity of discourse.’’3 Mae Henderson uses this phrase to ‘‘account for racial difference within gender identity and gender difference within racial identity’’ in discussions of feminism, language, and the political. Although punk has a history of sidestepping race and erasing its complexities (as does its attendant feminist and queer responses, riot grrrl and queer punk/homocore4), the notion of a racialized gender and sexuality still remains in its archive. The questions are how race gets dismissed in the punk archive, and what are the ways to amplify the feminist contributions by black women? The appearance of a ‘‘black hole’’ metaphor in two works by Evelynn M. Hammonds and Dick Hebdige are useful and fortuitous here.5 Through the messy uses of this metaphor, we are drawn into a space where much is happening, where performances resonate and shift conversations about gender, race, and sexuality. Since the discovery of the possible existence of black holes in space during the early years of the twentieth century6, no doubt, they have proven to be more than a cosmological phenomenon. Not only does the collective usage of this metaphor bring together black feminism, sexuality, and punk under one dialogic and allegoric relation – without knowledge of one another – they also consider punk’s historical erasures. Like most metaphors, though, in the attempt to describe a more nuanced event they ‘‘reveal as much as they conceal.’’7 This contradiction, noted by Hammonds, highlights the strange and dense mediation this metaphor holds. African American Historian and Science scholar Hammonds’s use of the ‘‘black (w)hole’’ trope draws on black feminist theories to regard both the distortions and imaginaries of more complex geometries of black female sexualities. Hammonds’s proposes a way of detecting this energy and distortion in her application of this trope and indicates a lack in the whole visual spectrum of black female sexualities. At the same time she questions the current perceptual tools and economies of visuality used to read, and thus formulate, this deficit. The other use, deployed by cultural critic Dick Hebdige in his seminal study of style in the punk subcultures of London, presents the ‘‘black hole’’ metaphor to locate the possible origins and significations of aesthetics in punk. He argues that black cultural expressions became a ‘‘black hole around which punk composes itself.’’8 I am interested in the ways the two uses of such a dense, extended metaphor become entangled; the ways in which they bring together punk rock and black feminism; and, the forms imaginaries take in both, for their rhetorical arguments and relief from structures of discomfort, violence, and dissemblance by inventing alternative spaces. My approach involves another set of devices: a critical intervention into punk rock’s historiographies and an active archiving of black feminist punk performances by Poly Styrene, Tamar-kali, M.J. Zilla, and Janelle Mona´e. Incorporating a discourse on archiving within the actual act of archiving punk performance leads to a recuperative archival process. The ‘‘black (w)hole,’’ then, pivots around two senses of ‘‘record’’: the record(ing) of sound in the performances and the historical record


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of time. Archiving by this means, I submit, serves to attend to the supplemental space of black feminism in punk and extends the genealogies of punk performance. Building on Derrida’s concept of the supplement – a system and force of continual correlation and replacement – I argue that the production of punk is a supplemental system that reaches for meaning and origin that can never be fulfilled.9 As a production, punk strives for a reproduction of presence – often a political presence – but in doing so race, gender, and sexuality are deferred and elided. To make up for this, assemblages of punk corollaries, marginalized scenes and spaces, form a supplemental system. Via a black feminist frame I will analyze this punk reproduction, and how the riot grrrl feminist intervention inadvertently upheld this system, to collapse the origin narratives of punk. Black feminism is the foundation of this archive and punk is a supplement to it. I am attempting to discern the alternative temporal and spatial configurations while sorting through the reduction of phonic materiality in the language of punk. By that I mean the archive of an entangled field of knowledges, a mass of materials, documents, and experiences never recorded and the act of seeking them out ‘‘in what we tend to feel is without history,’’ even in the face of seeming absence.10 Putting the two metaphors into conversation with one another via a recuperative archival method addresses the supplemental force of race in punk while steering the punk archive in a more plural and political direction. By turning the notion of punk history toward a plural end, it is steered away from an overall tendentious minimizing and squeezing of time. As we move away from visual representation, through questions of sound and affect, we find the intimate ways in which punk mirrors structural systems of daily life and thus maintains supplemental structures that necessitate spatial and sonic reflections of punk’s claims. Punk is something that cannot be comprehended by its origin nor its supplements, or by its presence and what is absent.

Space, black feminism, and sound My definition of an archive in this sonic context colludes with what may be unarchiveable. The supplemental system of punk introduces a precarious element of the incalculable, and so the black hole metaphor mediates the force of what cannot be archived. What cannot be archived must be archived in all that is ‘‘absent’’ and in all that is already ‘‘present.’’ Therefore, to archive the unarchiveable, it is necessary to sort through a method, or means of detection. Hammonds’s use of the trope in her highly influential 1995 feminist essay, ‘‘Black (w)holes and the geometry of black female sexuality,’’ has generated a number of critical works in response to her bevy of prompts and suggestions for an expansive study of black female sexualities.11 I hope to contribute to that expansion and consideration of Hammonds’s inquiry. This particular rendering of the trope – ‘‘black (w)hole’’ – contains a sustained quality to its genealogical call; in other words, through its utterance Hammonds is responding to Michele Wallace (2008), who is responding to literary scholar Houston Baker (1984).12 Arriving at the trope she deploys in her essay, Hammonds finds the metaphor, as read in Wallace’s Invisibility Blues, intriguing albeit strangely evocative of hyper-sexualized myths and phallocentricism. Even so, the section of


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Hammonds’s essay that I want to call attention to provides an intervention of cosmological proportions:

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I suggest that we can detect the presence of a black hole by its effects on the region of space where it is located . . . The identification of a black hole requires the use of sensitive detectors of energy and distortion. In the case of Black female sexualities, this implies that we need to develop reading strategies that allow us to make visible the distorting and productive effects these sexualities produce in relation to more visible sexualities . . . Rather than assuming that Black female sexualities are structured along an axis of normal and perverse paralleling that of white women, we might find that for Black women a different geometry operates.13

To initiate the detection process in a vast region of space, Hammonds suggests that we are to use strategies that address ‘‘energy’’ and ‘‘distortion,’’ both compatible forces in the world of punk. The distorting effects in punk are its collapse of time and space – the way that the genre makes sound both visible and lived. In Hammonds’s use of the trope, almost immediately, she intimates a dismissal of lack; rather, displacements have occurred that require complex detection to illuminate, or at the very least, to come to perceive, their presence. Hammonds’s reorientation of ‘‘black (w)hole’’ figures black female sexualities as having energy and force that become distorted by a heteronormative white female sexuality. They cannot be contained within a ‘‘twosome’’ axis (black/white, hypersexual/desexualized, etc.) of relation, production, and distribution.14 Her reading of this trope is to see the ‘‘whole’’ picture of the drive to sanction a singular being through dialectical extremes of sexuality and make space for gathering connections to alternative relations and renditions of race, gender, and sexuality. Punk performance is a platform for this endeavor, not only because, most obviously, it constitutes numerous racial formations that have been overlooked, but also because the work of this spacing in black feminism and punk performance has the potential to form supplemental practices outside the distorting effects that punk economies of determination and punk History present. Black feminism works to change space and curve time through understanding the forces of negation and distortion at work, but also refuses to fully accept a reduction of time and space. The black hole metaphor is productive in locating ‘‘rich imagistic possibilities’’ and the paradoxes that arise from it due to the counteraction of time and space. Time and space, among other things, are often distorted in a white dominated world. The ‘‘whole’’ complement offers a different kind of belonging, autonomy, and space of expression, in a somewhat similar way that punk rock imagines. However, a black (w)hole ‘‘reduces conventional discourse to zero sum’’ and zero volume.15 The metaphor, in this case, tethers not to meaning but a renewed anterior of archival and affective aesthetics and translates into gender and sexuality arguments. The limited sexuality that is often presented and reproduced in media and culture and the lack of black feminism in the punk subculture assume an absence. The presence is there; it is not an absent presence, but presence that refuses to be absent. The absence is a sensorial illusion, neither the result nor the origin, neither the effect nor the cause, but a vital force that must slip into another dimension at the last second to preserve itself, to find another way of being, outside the negation yet within the distortion.16 This black (w)hole is a star that is not exactly dying, not in the least. In a black hole, theoretically speaking, there is a whole world


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(some form of dense matter) in a small amount of space – whole, as in a vast spectrum of matter and energy. From the outside, visually, everything ‘‘looks the same,’’ in the same way that invisibility and absent presence works hard at becoming run of the mill. ‘‘The perpetual and profound invisibility of women of color to the dominant discourse,’’ as Wallace notes, might offer ‘‘a way to reformulate the problem of black female subjectivity and black female participation in culture.’’17 If the visuality of a black hole seems like an always-already absence rendered invisible, an object that demonstrates and performs absence – and calling on a binary star system allows for this easy speculation and presupposition – Hammonds contends then, there must be other methods available to detect what effects the presence of black female sexualities has on the space in which they are situated. Something else, some other mode of perception and arrangement is required to ‘‘make visible’’ the resistant vitalities, differences, and uncertainties of that space, that presence. That is, something else besides the ‘‘distorting and productive effects’’ of a binary star system (or galactic cloud) that marks and designates (in)visibility; something besides depending on the optical ‘‘white’’ star as a normative indicator, with its distorted shape of proximity. After all, as unknown objects in space, the primary way stellar-mass black holes have been detected are by reading the visual occurrence of spatial effects on the objects around them.18 While it may not be possible to see black female sexuality as distinct from white female sexuality, spatio-temporal distortions create means to see around the black (w)hole of black female sexuality. Many of the previous responses to Hammonds’s essay and her suggestions therein use performance as a means of detection. Their methods and contributions are especially helpful in light of questioning punk narratives and their value structures.19 The mechanisms of performance provide a space of negotiation in addition to a means of detecting other possible corollaries and links, like the black (w)hole trope. It is with these responses in mind that I propose archiving sonic performance as a means of detecting black feminism in punk. The process of mapping these omissions is a continued exploration of social, political, and cultural contexts. Ann Cvetkovich provides a handy guide for archiving materials and collections that ‘‘stand alongside the documents of the dominant culture in order to offer alternative modes of knowledge.’’20 With this focus – tilting and turning time and space towards something else – a counterarchive of counter-conducts and radical experience comes into view and becomes a means of detecting through sound. This auditory form of detection in punk folds into an archival method that expands the space of its historicity and dislodges the standard mythic narratives and geometry that a seemingly neutral visuality has enforced. Sound becomes a multi-sensorial source of material. Sound penetrates, grabs on, speaks, and touches – it has an ‘‘element of interiority’’ and an obligatory reception.21 In this way, sound strongly relates to archiving and is a valuable part of the performance discourse and genre. Punk sound, as a radical force, has the potential to open a vital and alternative space of sexuality and performance. In addition to material sources, performance as a critical and archival practice includes an active retrieval of ephemeral and immaterial forces and logics in direct relation to their enviro-political and sonic strategies and contexts. To start us off, I


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turn to Tamar-kali, who is a contemporary music artist from Brooklyn, New York; among other styles and incarnations she performs an embodiment of black feminist energies and punk distortion. She is ‘‘Your Grrl,’’ as written across her knuckles in an early b/w photo from her first release in 2005. With this tattoo-like (punk) aesthetic gesture, she touches on the interplay of the ‘‘grrrl’’ in Riot Grrrl and the black vernacular emphasis, ‘‘girl,’’ that flourished among women, queens, and girls prior to the punk feminist movement. There is also a relational nature of being ‘‘your’’ girl, to signal affective belonging, a mode of solidarity and encouragement in experience.22 Tamar-kali’s first independent release, Geechee Goddess Hardcore Warrior Soul, references the Gullah ‘‘Geechee Goddess’’23 and a transnational connection to womanist spirituality, addressing gender but also speaking beyond the constituted feminine (Figure 1).24 For Tamar-kali, her ‘‘piercings and tattoos are not about rebellion,’’ but rather her body is a vessel for ‘‘wisdom and a point of reference’’.25 As a performer, she embodies her own feminist agency and genealogy by inventing another space of the not not punk. Her Her Her Her

hair is short legs are brown lips are full head hangs down

Her eyes ain’t blue Her ass is round Her breasts are sweet And she wears a frown26

Figure 1. Tamar-kali, 2011. Photo by Scott Ellison Smith.


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At first glance, these lyrics from ‘‘Boot,’’ a song off Tamar-kali’s EP, portray a young black girl heavy with sadness (with the affective endings ‘‘down’’ and ‘‘frown’’). Combined with the driving rock performance they also reach toward a conductive wholeness. She speaks of an interrupted (w)holeness, one that gestures towards a ‘‘whole’’ aesthetic of beauty, but also gesturally distorts what is in the vicinity of the black (w)hole. The lines in these two verses, introduced and punctuated as they are with a clipped rhythmic guitar strum pattern, solicit an unconcealed and frank reading of bodily signals. The testifying nature of these verses archive and re-embody the summation of a ‘‘whole’’ aesthetic of beauty and experience reminiscent of Nina Simone’s song, ‘‘Four Women,’’ by echoing her cadence and phrasing: ‘‘My skin is black/my arms are long/my hair is wooly/my back is strong.’’27 With comparisons to a white woman’s blue eyes and the strong back that would be needed for a woman who works, both these songs describe how black women are preemptively excluded from aesthetics of beauty. The body described stands alone; it is not sexualized, but embraced as a sexual spirit, an inner force and vitality, existing in its own geometric form.28 This is where distortion benefits from a geometrical Hammonds reading and archival genealogy. Tamar-kali is updating Nina Simone in such a way that, with its descriptive list of parts, both refuses to and cannot reveal a black female sexual body. These lists describe a viewing procedure for looking at the black body and suggest a shift in that perspective which Tamarkali is indexing. Furthermore, the sonic archiving of this spatial consideration links with the black (w)hole trope to allow for a temporal opening into the punk performances of women of color feminism. The implication is that a region has been missed, distorted, unmapped in the geo-historiography of punk (in riot grrrl, for instance), but nonetheless spaces have opened up to new geometries and stakes of punk. As stated earlier, the black (w)hole trope works to mediate the elements of space, sound, and black feminism. In the process of detecting and archiving punk performances of black feminism, questions about the stakes of aesthetic production derived from the sonic (w)holes appear in relation to a punk subcultural expression. Black female sexualities, according to Hammonds, have a (w)hole continuum of energy and matter, not shaped by white female sexualities. The range is not seen. At the same time she questions the current perceptual tools and economies of visuality used to read, and thus formulate, this deficit: ‘‘What methodologies are available to read and understand this perceived void and gauge its direct and indirect effects on that which is visible? Conversely, how does the structure of what is visible, namely white female sexualities, shape those not-absent-though-not-present Black female sexualities?’’29 Hammonds’s question directs the focus towards the means of detection, rather than the black (w)hole. If this ‘‘void’’ is filled with ‘‘not-absentthough-not-present Black female sexualities’’ then how does what ostensibly is more present, white female sexualities, form and mediate it? How does the typical binary star system distort and affect black female sexualities? More specifically, what are the ways in which Hazel Carby’s historical analysis of urban hypersexual myths that developed during the Great Migration north continue to circulate and blame gendered African American bodies rather than economic and political factors?30


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What are the ways to detect present-day neoliberal and conservative efforts at maintaining the cult of true womanhood?31 Tamar-kali is one performer who asks these questions and tries to crack the ‘‘white boy’s game’’ of music. Having worn combat boots with her Catholic school uniform growing up, she continues to challenge institutional and sexual imperatives.32 Chorus: She is sweet tastin’ fruit whose juice is bitter tears She is love’s worn out boot, tattered and torn you wear Twist a virgin round your dirty little finger Blood is gone but the memory lingers

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Kill a virgin with your bloody little finger Ate her innocence and her virtue for dinner.

The blustery dynamics of the turbulent guitars and her vocals dig deep into the transitive words and the sexualization of affective experience in ‘‘Boot.’’ The chorus starts off slow and measured accessing a great discontent, but in the last two stanzas, as we witness the effects of a girl who has been sexually abused, an unshrinking fury boils over. The title of the song holds a double connotation: the rebellious boots of trauma she now wears as a hardcore33 punk, and the ‘‘dirty’’ power the ‘‘bloody little finger’’ stamped on her body and her life. Her voice trails as she encounters the girl’s memory, especially in her capacious performance of the word ‘‘lingers.’’ Tamar-kali gestures at the distortions of the (w)hole through bearing witness in such a way that describes the distance between her own performing self and her abused body. The figure she sings of, her sexual vitality, aims for unapologetic wholeness through the hole left behind, but a painful desire follows. Tamar-kali leaves you with the possibility of an elusive wholeness and space. The song illuminates plural temporalities of a power-sex commodity exchange, yet another distortion of sexuality and spirituality. Tamar-kali marks a shift in discourse around the racialized economics of sexuality. As her voice keens with a graceful puissance and resolute texture, she fully welcomes a feminism that addresses black female sexuality, with a womanist lens, at once confronting and transforming some of the ‘‘controlling images’’34 and racialization surrounding her body, sexuality, and gender. Tamar-kali chooses an embodied practice through sound; in this sense her punk spiritual becomes a political strategy in navigating the holes in punk with its proverbial big combat boots. The spiritual informs ‘‘constructed knowledges’’ and the idea of ‘‘selfdefinition’’ and wholeness simultaneously incorporating the past, present, and future. Like 1970s singer Betty Davis, she sonically and unswervingly gestures toward ‘‘emotional flexibility’’ and the negotiation of sexuality.35 What discourses would need to shift to make room for a womanist perspective in the vast sassy space of punk? Can punk handle it? One way is to look to and adjust the generic claims to punk. Hammonds’s trope and its connection to punk performance asks how the visibility of whiteness in punk scenes align its logic to a system, a supplement to what has been there all along: black feminist sexualities. Handling and using the sonic (sub)text of punk performances to detect black feminist sexualities and creativity engages this system and space of race in punk’s history (and by extension, in the feminist regard, riot grrrl’s). The historical


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and discursive laws of riot grrrl tend to remain within the white-dominated society. They apply a limited spatial inventory by matching white female sexualities in the ring with punk’s boastful masculine mayhem. In other words, the riot grrrl movement was mostly dependent upon white male structures of opposition and spatial configurations of privilege already laid down by dominant culture. When looking back at the riot grrrl movement in punk, a feminist response to early 1990s male-dominated punk scenes, much of the focus included not only women having a voice and space in punk music, but also having a ‘‘safe’’ space.36 But, as Hortense Spillers argues: ‘‘feminism needs to address policy and violence as well as the cultural links to class, race, and nation.’’ Although they conducted ‘‘anti-racist’’ workshops and attempted discussions of white privilege at organized conventions, privileging their own space was first and foremost in the minds of the mostly white women of riot grrrl.37 Both white men and women vied for a space they could call their own in punk rock. In other words, the failure to address and fully acknowledge their own white privilege lay in the very thing (the privilege of space) they were up in front fighting for. Whether or not there was a ‘‘built-in assumption’’ in riot grrrl, as there was in ‘‘second wave’’ Feminism, that ‘‘every woman wants to be a ‘white woman’,’’38 spatial entitlement and its infinite connection to gender, race, nation, and sexuality was passed over on the stage of punk. After all, performance and the stage are precariously and liminally, and quite effectively, capable of conflating and punking time and space.39 This space is intimately tied to sound and belonging. Sound guards the capacity of inventing multiple archives and the ‘‘phonic materiality’’ inherent in those archives is what arises, becoming anterior in the process. Fred Moten’s In the Break posits that black music itself performs significations and ‘‘a long apprenticeship to the materiality of voices that the music represents.’’ Moten’s generative concept of phonic materiality controverts Saussure’s argument that sound is merely ancillary to language.40 The sound elements of speech and music contain sources of relevance and communication. Moten offers an ontology of black performance and blackness through sonic potentialities: this is the black (w)hole speaking and the resistance of the object who speaks. The emphasis is not so much on the meaning of the significations but the aesthetic, ontic, and epistemic residue that its constellation leaves behind: the sensorial physics of the phonic. There’s less white noise in a black (w)hole. My archival work here, although recuperative, is not the assumptive position of making the invisible present, nor to contribute to a continual supplemental consumption – a desire for persistent materialization of presence – but to tune a means of perceiving and amplifying black feminism, the potential proliferation of a whole spectrum of sexualities, and ‘‘womanist’’ expression in punk performance. This approach uses more of a phonic (radio) telescope to listen to what is affectively co-existent to this incessant anterior of presence and spatial reckoning. The universe indeed has no edges and no center. The archiving comes about through genealogy and writing, a spatial discernment identification of the sonic, social, and aesthetic materiality of tropes, such as the black (w)hole, and the strategies and articulations that appear in punk performance. Through a sonic archiving and black feminist analysis of punk


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performance, the trope challenges the persistent axis and linearity of assimilation, incorporation, and adaptation in punk.

Archiving punk genealogies It is no mystery that race, gender, and sexuality have often found themselves floating unnoticed in punk space. Aptly, cultural studies veteran and subculture scholar Dick Hebdige identifies a black hole in punk rock, a ‘‘present absence’’ of black cultural expressions (such as reggae) that have become ‘‘a black hole around which punk composes itself.’’41 Writing his classic cultural critique prior to Baker, and imparting the metaphor differently of course, Hebdige implies that punk harbors a presence in its absent center and that punk is on the verge of collapsing into this black hole, that perhaps reggae bears the brunt of much of the looking back in the punk archive and its critique. However, he vaguely warns against a collapse of the two comparative positions of these ‘‘black and white subcultures,’’ and yet earlier deems the dialectic to be frozen at the heart of punk.42 True, if we run with the metaphor, the theory in astrophysics is that anything close to the event horizon of a black hole does collapse to zero sum, but a black hole exists without a bifurcated system: it is, theoretically, an event of multiple proportions. Still, while he argues that there is a ‘‘decisive break’’ with black cultural expressions, he also comments on the constructed unstableness of its ‘‘bleached roots’’ hybridity.43 Without going into too much detail about what this black hole metaphor is doing for his analysis, and despite his doubt, he does not name the bands that actually found an ‘‘easy synthesis’’44 of punk rock and reggae in a revival of ska (The Selecter, The Specials, and other 2-Tone bands) in the late 1970s. He briefly opens the discourse of race by zeroing in on the ‘‘mutation’’ of punk from black cultural forms. Nonetheless, he omits an analytical refinement of the semiotic categorizations, the ‘‘meaning’’ of this black/white arrest, and the confluence of race, nation, gender, and sexuality in punk’s aesthetic and subcultural underpinnings. Instead, he notes its putative and ostensibly commonplace dialectical movement ‘‘from white to black and back again.’’45 Angela McRobbie’s critique of Hebdige points out that the already coded appropriations and ‘‘the sheer partiality of extrapolating race as a signifier par excellence makes that which he chose not to deal with all the more shocking . . . he seems oblivious to the equal neglect of sexuality and sexism.’’46 Furthermore, as Tavia Nyong’o suggests, Hebdige did not investigate the intersection of ‘‘punk’’ and ‘‘queer’’ and how race and sexuality become articulated therein. He remains within the ‘‘black and white’’ social confines of race relations, as opposed to recovering ‘‘a thicker description [that] entails grasping the racial dimension of the epithets ‘punk’ and ‘punked’,’’47 as well as the transnational and Black Atlantic influences. As an authority on punk subculture, his analysis also upholds the imperial dialectic between the civilized and the savage through the white punk’s expression of desire to be the master of escape and subversion without a reading of how punk ‘‘played out within an empire and also between empires.’’48 And yet, we are left with a metaphor that quite obviously reinforces a gap in space, but also hangs on a fetishization of the black other and places punk in a production line


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of whiteness. Punk has no one origin, but its genealogies are constrained and whitewashed. The lack of genealogical variability itself forms another actual hole that allows an ‘‘other’’ status to become distorted, and virtually collapses any chance at interrupting that ‘‘black and white dialectic.’’ The work of cultural studies critics like Dick Hebdige and Angela McRobbie have outlined and analyzed punk’s beginnings and how subcultures produce signifiers of meaning and ‘‘transformations [that] go ‘against nature’, interrupting the process of ‘normalization’.’’49 Not that music needs cultural theory’s help50 but, the question becomes: do countercultures that claim egalitarianisms of the underground – without looking into how dominant and relational discourses of race, gender, and sexuality – foreclose meaning and repeat loaned-out signifiers of freedom and loss? In Subculture, the found meanings in punk style and counterculture identify with a subaltern positionality: they appropriate and meld an ‘‘open identification with black British and West Indian culture.’’51 Hebdige points to a mirroring and referential link to pre-bourgeois (class) qualities of ‘‘inequality, powerlessness, and alienation’’ due to a displacement from ‘‘its own location in experience,’’52 without mentioning the direct relation of colonial British empire and imperialism. This analysis is also found in U.S. resonances of punk, like Daniel S. Traber’s description of ‘‘L.A.’s ‘White Minority’’’ punk scene, that posits a position of assuming a transgression to Other status, choosing an ‘‘asceticism of harsh poverty,’’ (35) and ‘‘using self-marginalization to achieve a sense of hard ‘realness’.’’53 Interestingly, Hebdige makes allusions to a ‘‘chain of conspicuous absences’’ in the way the white punks ‘‘played up their Otherness,’’ but only in opposition to skinheads.54 The supplemental punk commodity flourished in the alienated forms of reggae and the ‘‘translation of black ’ethnicity’‘‘ and warranted an aesthetics of ‘‘emulation’’ from the ‘‘quintessential subterranean,’’55 as previous sociologists and Houston Baker confirm. Perhaps, we can generously say, Hedige’s implication is that punk not only claims the space of the black hole mechanism as a white thing of value, but this valorization also de-values, subsumes, and passes over the punk performances that might have negotiated and addressed racialized aspects of the (sub)culture at large. X-Ray Spex, with a young Poly Styrene at the helm, was one such performance as one of the first ‘‘punk’’ bands to come onto the stage in 1977, two years before Hebdige’s publication (Figure 2).56 Born in the UK to Somali and white British parents, Styrene makes ample use of satire to conduct overarching dialogues that enter the multiple paradoxes of consumer culture, postcolonial alienation, and social materialism. At the beginning of her song ‘‘Genetic Engineering,’’ she calls out the title of the song (as she does with most of her songs) and after a count off in German, portending the song’s performance while referencing a recent past of racial genocide, the music responds in a fierce punk revolt. ‘‘Ripping’’ through the density of instruments, out of the ascending blues scale, the ground-up super-sonance, and the summoning saxophone contributions of Lara Logic, comes the Tina Turner-like grain of Poly Styrene belting out the chorus: Genetic engineering Could create the perfect race


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Figure 2. Poly Styrene, December 1977. Photo by Virginia Turbett.

Could create an unknown life-force That could us exterminate57

The sonic performance of this song introduces an interventional archive into the generic genealogies of punk rock’s history and etymology and serves not as a point of


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origin but expands the space and time-frame parallel. Her voice acutely and percussively enacts the discharge of her not-so-far-reaching visions of industrial creations and a bleak erasure of futurity, a non-galactic binary system of constraint constructed by ‘‘experts.’’ At the same time, bringing in Stuart Hall, she simply ‘‘acknowledges [that] the spaces ‘won’ for difference are few and far between . . . they are very carefully policed and regulated.’’58 For Styrene, the complicity involved in not negotiating space and difference is too rampant and dangerous to ignore.

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Introducing worker clone As our subordinated slave His expertise proficiency Will surely dig our grave

A signification of this perceptive magnitude imbues the hard-hitting yet infusive lilting in her voice on the words ‘‘race’’ and ‘‘slave,’’ and harbors a haunting precursor to her kinetic snarl on ‘‘grave’’ at the end of this second verse. Her introduction of this slave world narrates an informed resistance of its grasp. In other words, this potential futurity, based on past, racialized events, is all too possible. Out of the growling ‘‘grave’’ from the previous verse, Poly Styrene carries this deathly menace all the way through the satirically laced over-enunciation of ‘‘cre-a-tor’’ to the visceral fallout-siren-like extended voicing (a vibrato modulation) on the word ‘‘exist.’’ It’s so very tempting Will biologists resist When he becomes the creator Will he let us exist

The constellation of end-rhymes throughout expands the sardonic twist on the daily life intimacy of not belonging and avoiding the extinction of difference. Clearly this involves a racial wipeout at the hands of some institutional apparatus, starting with a complicit ‘‘we’’ in the previous verse and ending with a ‘‘he.’’ In marking this phonic biotech encounter, she is acknowledging her/‘‘our’’ own role in developing this potential and at the same time distancing from these designated, gendered machines to make decisions about how that potential gets used. In the subsequent solo, the saxophone brings a polyphonic jazz influence to the music that has rarely been repeated in punk since, except perhaps in ska-reggae counterparts, and transnational renditions from the horns of Fishbone. Underneath, the ascending pentatonic bass line has a consistent, driving, and chaotic blues scale ‘‘jumping’’ into the final verse. The instrumentality punctuates the spatial fluctuation conveyed in the lyrics and vice versa. Bionic man is jumping Through the television set He’s about to materialize And guess who’s coming next

The song ends in a position of abjection, suggesting that the listener, or even Styrene, may be the ‘‘next’’ deathly figure of this ‘‘imagined’’ culture. With this last parable warning line she invokes an interpellative guessing game of hyper-vigilance in a


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hyper-reality-based modernity seeped in (bio)technology and self-production. This reproduction wants to maintain binaries of control and yet Styrene attempts to forfeit and forge a new future. Styrene was not hyper-sexualized nor was she desexualized, she exuded her own distinct fashionable power, youthful panache, and sexual politics. Her songs perform the anti-shift into a reproductive biopower of sexual liberalism. The unstable position that Styrene leaves us with speaks to the present with a critical race and sonic intervention project in locating race and gender in punk. Punk rock has a reputation for misreading class and gender-based racializations and transnational contributions, but while espousing an overthrowthe-dominant-paradigm sensibility. The counterculture of punk may not be so counter after all. As music critic Lester Bangs observed, the racism in CBGB’s was no different than New York City at large (105).59 Punk itself resides in a microcosm of the world-at-large where African Americans are systematically invisible (yet rendered overtly ‘‘equal’’).60 James Porter and Jake Austen expound on this phenomenon in their ongoing web archive, ‘‘Black punk time’’ that originally appeared in Roctober magazine: ‘‘punk was the wildest, angriest, most vital, most energetic, hottest shit going. But it was also the whitest.’’61 Is it that punk has not yet arrived, as the first namesake magazine of its kind once claimed all over New York City? The definition of punk is at best highly contested, constantly changing, and etymologically complex. Since it did ‘‘arrive’’ already contested and minoritized, ‘‘punk’’ has not yet worked out its early 1970s New York City ‘‘fuck-it’’ carceral aesthetic of sped-up displacement; nor has punk rock directly met with the prison vernacular usage that William Burroughs initially thought of when Punk Magazine was first presented to him: someone ‘‘who took it up the ass.’’62 Both Nyong’o and Greg Tate point to several definitions encompassing African-American vernaculars for a homosexual man and the brunt of humiliating intentions (‘‘you could get your ass kicked for calling another brother a punk’’).63 This usage was also normatively funneled into a bland appropriation of pop hip-hop by Ashton Kutcher for a popular MTV show with the punch line: ‘‘you just got punk’d.’’ Despite the co-opted huckster wordplay, when framed against the literal macho-fest, Nazi-punk hoedown at a Circle Jerks show – much to lead singer Keith Morris’s dismay – one has to wonder from where is the political, sexual, and aesthetic stance of punk affecting a racist, homophobic, and u¨ber-masculine mode of conducting oneself? Macho togetherness with a shunned queerness in being punk’d whitifies ‘‘punk,’’ distorts what ‘‘punk’’ can be, controls its reproduction, and lays claim to it through aggression and appropriation. What laws and desires have twisted racial and sexual negotiations of prison life into a punk spirit of repressed homoeroticism and oblivious hipster charm? Not to sound the more-punk-than-thou alarm, but in Tamar-kali and Poly Styrene’s vocalizations, punk becomes more of an individual and collective desire to combat violently embedded systems and imbues an underground performance of alternative wholeness and (sub)cultural counterings. Their performances consider the space of punk music and its immeasurable history, twist the notions of time and origin, and address ‘‘the subject transformed by law


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that nevertheless exists nowhere within it.’’64 They point to where the alienation of space and patronage lies, where punk even goes horribly wrong. Punk’s lineage with race and colonial histories entwine across the Atlantic between the U.S. and the U.K. in an exchange of influences, familiarity, and style, which confirms Nyong’o’s observation of Toni Morrison’s argument in Playing in the dark, that ‘‘‘race’ is produced out of an ongoing avoidance of an ongoing history of racist domination.’’65 Considering Hebdige’s use of the black hole metaphor, punk has attempted to compose itself around this history and become recognized as the more ‘‘visible’’ poster child of alienation. Nyong’o argues further that the relation between race and racism is indeed ‘‘needed to unpack the cultural meaning of punk in contemporary U.S. and British cultures.’’66 There are multiple laws, mechanisms, and logics at work that punk performances of black feminism attempt to uncoil. The dystopian and disciplining panopticon of a generic version of punk does not break with the punk in prison, the one who is fucked, but is normally seen as perverse. Punk rock allows this to linger unspoken and it’s no wonder it became homogenized and exclusive. Although Poly Styrene inspired many a third-wave feminism riot grrrl band, when asked to play a night with all-women bands Poly Styrene ostensibly refused, saying it smacked too much of a novelty, a divisive ploy. Perhaps her stance served to nod to her own womanist subjectivity, hypervigilant of political strategies and tensions at hand (not to mention the fact that there was more of an abundance of female fronted or all-female bands starting off the scene at that time). However, her response also juxtaposes self-evoked acts in the U.S. and transnationally, like the creation of festivals like Ladyfest, that developed later to once again assert a spatial visibility of women in music. At the same time, these acts became necessary in the face of an evolved patriarchal and hegemonic version of the punk subculture (that still did not include women of color for the most part). A womanist punk dispatches futurity, even if it is not yet here, outside the space of performance, an imaginary beyond the song. Supporting each other, the trajectories followed in Tamar-kali and Styrene’s performance all point to racial and sexual displacement through dispersion along parallel lines, an axis that set up determinations of conflict and regulation. The racialized perversity surrounding the punk and the policed black female sexuality, as seen in the urban context of Carby’s essay, became a costume that punks could put on and take off while talking about its new, liberating values, as something that is anti-state when in fact, for the most part, it is actually not. Chorus: Everything is not OK Everything is not all right Sometimes things that might seem gray Turn out to be black and white (It’s black and white . . .)67

Speaking to the black (w)hole trope and binary system visibility, the opening chorus of ‘‘Black & White,’’ a Slack Republic song from a 2007 release builds a potent rotational exchange, a genealogical call-and-response in space (Figure 3). Since they formed in 2005, many critics have found it difficult to place them into a


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Figure 3. Mec Jagger (M.J. Zilla) and Pierre Moore of The Slack Republic. Design by M.J. Zilla.

music genre or category (which perhaps their song ‘‘Black & White’’ also plays on). Unfortunately, though, they broke up in 2007. The name of the band came from their thoughts on their current generation, but also from a random online name generator. With two releases on independent label Rock Slinger Incorporated, created by singer M.J. Zilla herself, this self-proclaimed (post)punk band from Atlanta, GA and Brooklyn, N.Y. finds historical parallels with


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contemporary empires. The tropological landscape of ‘‘Black & White’’ (bordering on anthemic) cannot be pinned down, time becomes a question: how long has it not been OK? M.J. Zilla’s layered vocals driving over the extended emo rhythm underneath spark polyrhythms of articulation. The repetition of the words ‘‘black and white’’ perform an oscillation between a speculation of racial formations and an intercultural, transmorphic miscegenation – as if playing on Michael Jackson’s hit of 1991 that chimes: ‘‘It don’t matter if you’re black or white.’’ We can barely make out the seeing and the not-seeing through the milky way of matter, ‘‘our monochrome reality.’’ The chorus’s signifyin(g)68 practice on punk’s radical narrative decodes microcosmic affect, embodying the social universe within punk itself and unraveling the black/white lines punk fell in line with. We have come so very far From where we think we really are And everyday we stray some more Apart we fall onto the floor In heaps of hearts and limbs and minds To wait until someone can find A way to sort our wrongs from rights To tell us what is black and white

The percussive and angular emphasis on the words with the music’s punctuated and rhythmic melody captures an overview of a cycle that appears to continue repetitively with each new generation seeking answers. There is a point in between the two verses when a hegemonic phantasm casts a shadow of ‘‘black and white’’ itself – heard in the overlapping eclipse between the line, ‘‘To tell us what is black and white,’’ ‘‘falling’’ over into the color-blind constitution starting the next verse. A woman of color feminism addresses this specter of combined racialized and gendered incarnations, as Hortense Spillers describes it, a ‘‘movement of ‘desedimentation’.’’69 The ‘‘black and white’’ prevalence M.J. Zilla refers to is not the frozen dialectic Hebdige speaks of at the heart of punk, it is the continued enforcement, deployment, and reinstatement of that dialectic. M.J. Zilla performs her own act of questioning and surfacing out of the specter mechanism that banally ‘‘makes us all color blind’’ and calls on a monochrome politics of visibility. Made us all color blind Making sure that we don’t find Our pot of gold so never mind Rainbows have all been left behind All we have now to wait to see is our monochrome reality Shows us that hope can seem so trite

The song critiques a homogenization of race and culture, a dulling of the senses, and the perpetuation of instituted ‘‘docile’’ bodies within a simulated late-capitalist dream. In an interview, singer and lyricist M.J. Zilla conveys that the song is ‘‘like a search for oneself . . . wanting to have an identity in a world that doesn’t allow it.’’70 ‘‘Rainbows have all been left behind’’ speaks to an Audre Lorde poem about the rainbow serpent Aido Hwedo: ‘‘Who must be worshipped, but whose names and faces have been lost in time.’’71 The last three lines of the fourth verse reveal a


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question of who holds the means of speculation to alter the course of subjectivization.

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Either you’re king or you’re a pawn Your rook is gone, they took your knight so who wins the fight between black and white

Genealogies of black feminist performance transmusically work to undermine the myths of a post-everything world of linearity and an affect of public–private separation of overcome-ness. The start of the twenty-first century began to see a partial transcendence and transformation of homogeneous narratives, but ironically not in the political and public citizen sense. Within most punk sensibilities, as Mimi Nguyen notes in a Punk Planet article, ‘‘the rhetoric of punk rock citizenship’’ is somehow ‘‘understood as transcending race, gender, sexuality, or whatever.’’72 To further expand the relationship of race, gender, and sexuality and the contradictions of experience and signification within the historiographies of the punk subculture, I want to point out that punk rock has no known origin, most certainly not the much touted early 1970s New York or The Sex Pistols. Of course, all origin points are contrived, leaving questions about what gets archived in its situated utterance. Some have written that punk rock’s origin lies within a small spectrum of sources that supplement punk’s persistent need to aesthetically evaluate a lack based on economic need, complicit warfare, and visibility. However, that would not entirely account for the ‘‘present absence’’ of race, gender, and sexuality inherent in ‘‘punk’’ and the necessary proliferation of offshoots and subcultural manifestations of identity politics such as riot grrrl, queer punk, and afro-punk. Afro-punk is seen as a necessary offshoot to punk as a whole. James Spooner’s documentary film Afro-punk begins to capture these strands of contradiction and multi-punk-rock perspectives, and yet also forms a supplemental space. Within the afro-punk identification, Tamar-kali, Slack Republic, Santigold, J*Davey, Muhsinah, and Janelle Mona´e have played a large role in the current and pointed expression of a social performativity in punk historiography. By extension, the Brooklyn/Queens afro-punk scene that has flourished alongside Matthew Morgan’s annual Afro-punk festival and online community development provide an inlet and interventional archiving of African Americans in the punk subculture.73 At one point in the film, the punks interviewed talk about what they hear from their white punk friends: including comments like ‘‘my politics transcend race and gender.’’74 What kind of ‘‘politics’’ transcends race and gender? This question becomes the linchpin in finally excavating the political in punk and turning punk into a site of negotiation. Multi-vectored social formations, such as black feminist punks, resist being sucked into a void or single point of vision and ‘‘refuse to be neatly aligned.’’75 Afro-punk rides the line of a supplemental system of punk historiography, not quite addressing the black (w)hole and not quite a movement. Its commercial viability (of sponsorship) and visual focus (of Harley-Davidson biker women calendars) seem to work against the grain of a more hardcore black feminist version of a communitysupported coalitional festival and loses its focus. Still, the notion of an ‘‘afro-punk’’ articulation draws from the sensibilities and qualities of Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson, Peggy Jones, Amina Claudine Myers,


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Bernice Johnson Reagon, Labelle, Betty Davis, Vaginal Davis, Red C, and many others. Stuart Hall contends in his essay entitled ‘‘What is this ‘black’ in black popular culture?’’: ‘‘What we are talking about is the struggle over cultural hegemony, which in these days waged as much in popular culture as anywhere else.’’76 Furthermore, in the introduction to the second issue of Evolution of a race riot Nguyen points to the hegemonic leanings still existing in punk and writes, ‘‘punk rock will never be able to deal with race alone.’’77 The structures of power that became arranged in punk point to a metonymic iteration and mimic the same dominant ideologies they decry to subvert. Another interviewee in Afro-punk, whom Nguyen points to in a review of the film: ‘‘People want a multicultural vision of punk rock, and they want to showcase you, ‘Look at all the Negroes!’ But at the same time they don’t want to deal with you as a person who experiences race.’’78 Like Baker’s ‘‘black (w)hole,’’ these issues reflect a society and a long history and polemic that shape blackness and have forced black experience underground. Rather than an engaged transnational exchange of articulating archives of space-time expressions, experiences, and ideas, punk has a history of falling in line with a linear History of racism. Did punk rock end up having laws that constrained its own discourse, and, like a supplement, regulated determinations and contradictions of its own expression? It would appear so, and the iterations of punk’s origin (a` la Punk magazine or The Sex Pistols)79 impose a limiting supplementarity while requiring minoritarian subjects to supply their own supplementary space through sound.

Sonic supplementarity The year is 2719: the city Metropolis is ruled under the iron jaws of the evil Wolfmasters; five World Wars have since past, and its people are still bonded by poverty and ‘‘trying to figure a way out.’’ Performer, music conductor, and grand inventor of this mythic world, Janelle Mona´e asks: what ‘‘turns our hero into a runaway fugitive’’? Android #57821, aka Cindi Mayweather, has escaped into the ‘‘Wonderground’’ and now sings a ‘‘rebellious new form of pop music known as cybersoul.’’80 With the stance of previous leaders before her, she imagines many moons ‘‘lighting the way to freedom.’’ Janelle Mona´e’s personas reproduce polyvalent afrofuturistic aesthetic a` la Sun Ra with modes and desires of black feminism and futural sonic flare (Figure 4). She reaches the outer limits by telling another story and redefining her world. In her signature graphic black and white gear, she is part androgynous action hero and part elegant outlaw extraordinaire culled from numerous aesthetic and sonic forms of mod, ska, new wave, funk, punk, house, rockabilly, pop, hip-hop, classical, swing, and r&b. Her musical style is difficult to pin down and in this evasion she critiques and expands the generic concept of punk, both in how gender and sexuality are addressed and how the missing race element plays out. Her musical abilities wipe up the generic genre floor with her aural moves and storytelling – she is hardcore genre-crossing diva-nation, adding to punk possibilities rather than detracting and categorizing. She speaks to a subject that is transformed by law yet does not exist within it, and nurtures responses to presumptions of racialized and sexualized criminality.81 In her song


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Figure 4. Janelle Mona´e. Illustration by Missy McCullough/iMissyYou.com.

‘‘Many Moons,’’ from her first suite, The Chase, she twists around images, spaces, and vestiges of freedom. Mona´e and her Wondaland Arts Society collective invent performances that expand womanist directions and pull out an unabashed sexual, albeit ‘‘android,’’ ambiguity. When asked about her sexual affiliation, her retort to Rolling Stone reveals a hint of exploring other manifestations of sexuality: ‘‘The lesbian community has tried to claim me. But I only date androids.’’82 Along with Tamarkali, Poly Styrene, and M.J. Zilla, Mona´e contributes to a sonic supplementarity of black feminism in punk performance. Like Styrene, Zilla, and Tamar-kali, she seems


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to prefer not to be part of a specific representative group or music genre. I bring in Derrida’s analysis of the supplement to argue here that Hebdige’s proposition of the ‘‘black hole around which punk composes itself’’ collapses through the process of detecting the sonic performance of black feminism and sexuality. Before moving on to Derrida though, I want to clarify what this collapse entails. By collapsing, I mean at least three things: (1) punk was not as white and composed as Hebdige and others presumed – a binary star system is not needed to detect a black (w)hole; (2) the complexities and connectivities of postcolonial, diasporic, sexual and racial tensions in the UK at the time of his study were left unaddressed – other sensitive detectors for reading distortions and energies around the black (w)hole; and (3) the apparent ‘‘present absence’’ of race and black female sexualities forms a black (w)hole, a supplemental space of punk – the notion of collapse is just a theory, its fear a dramatic myth. Perhaps Hebdige also deferred the multiple spatio-temporal interests in revealing what was in the (w)hole in favor of detecting its stylistic distortions of its white surroundings, a preemptive collapse. I am not saying that Hebdige’s ‘‘black hole’’ never existed, but that its rhetorical speculation about ‘‘race relations’’ can be usefully deconstructed. In much the same way as deconstructing the ‘‘origin’’ of punk, a foundational moment of ‘‘race relations’’ can be opened up. Shoshana Felman proposes that when there is a desire to valorize the ‘‘first,’’ there needs to be a ‘‘deconstruction of the very concept of beginning as a basis for identities.’’83 Rather than the labor of black feminism becoming a necessary means of dissipating binary, dialectical, and racial compositions of conflict in punk, and doing all the work, by archiving and detecting via Hammonds’s ‘‘black (w)hole’’ the previous supplemental system of punk becomes dismantled, passes the event horizon, and multiple supplemental spaces of black feminist punk performance come to light. Queer theorist Jose´ Mun˜oz also calls on Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark to draw attention to phenomena that poses and ‘‘represents a challenge to whiteness as the fixed and universal subject.’’84 What is time and space supposed to look and feel like? How do they move and sound (like the emission of sound when we reach the speed of light)? Light can escape a black (w)hole, and darkness does more to shape light and less to conform to visible spectrums or audible wavelengths. This collapse applies to the supplemental idea of a punk origin and rubs up against an expansion of its genealogy. Using Rousseau, Derrida surmises that originarity, the idea of an origin, is suspended. In other words, the lineage of a supplemental system (such as culture and the arts) and the origin of that system are one in the same.85 Therefore, there is no origin in the sense that there is no natural beginning, and there is a supplement at the source of a supplement. For instance, one could say, the predominant angry-white-boy mentality in the US punk scene has caused rifts and supplementary articulations to appear, such as riot grrrl, queer punk/homocore, and of course, afro-punk. However, afro-punk is not a supplement of punk, despite its commercial ventures; if anything it reveals generic, white punk as a supplement to it. Otherwise, calling afro-punk a supplement would then be designating white punk as the main natural sign or origin, which it is not as Hebdige implies, but generic punk’s supplementary system has rendered it as such. The same could be said for queer punk, although it too was not entirely inclusive of race or


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black feminist sexualities and carried along the historicized origin narrative of punk. If we read ‘‘punk’’ as a text to be ‘‘punk’d,’’ a thing not quite grounded in space and not read in exclusive documents, scenes, or locations ‘‘circulating through other texts, leading back to it constantly, conforming to the element of a language and to its regulated functioning,’’86 then we might begin to see the system and mechanisms of that supplement actively negotiated in the archive and perhaps other anterior spaces of punk will surface ‘‘elsewhere.’’ As Shotgun Seamstress titles one of her MRR columns about the punk zines that came before her, ‘‘a race riot did happen.’’87 Punk (secretly) seeks a spirit and philosophy ‘‘that the anterior cycle had produced.’’88 The high of the first emergings of punk seemed to find no one origin, and the laws that eventually constrained the punk discourse, like a supplemental system does, began regulating determinations of itself and the satirical layering of contradictions (property, ownership, authenticity) became all too real. Numerous critical zine writers and riot grrrl certainly thought so. When does D.I.Y. organizing and publishing meet with this constraint? Perhaps it is in space of the unarchiveable. The ironic thing about History is that it is a supplemental system, but history is open to re-writing; it is a blank, open space continually filled with all manner of things – an archivist’s dream.89 Anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot identifies four ‘‘crucial moments’’ in that system’s capacity for signifying events: sources, archives, narratives, and history in the final instance.90 The temporal aspect that takes over the space of events, as he demonstrates in Silencing the past, can be intercepted at the point of archives if other sources are found and taken through the process of archiving. However, Trouillot is indicating that archiving is not entirely a standardized practice; it can be equally accessible to all. Is language and writing needed to archive, translate, and interpret the sources of a society’s history? Many have asked this question, but I am trying to locate a phonic articulation both beyond and within the parameters of language and archiving as an ‘‘enunciative practice’’ of phonic materiality.91 A womanist experience of an aesthetic practice, song, or scar provides its own articulation through space and time. Black feminism and the unarchiveable gesture of punk performance do not conform to a particular subcultural composition. Articulation and the unarchiveable form the possibility of alternative supplemental spaces. Derrida proposes that articulation is a supplemental system – like the history of writing or writing itself – that replaces speech, song, and accent. When he deconstructs Rousseau’s efforts to articulate the pleasure of a presence, he notes that Rousseau only desires the addition of saturated enjoyment and avoids the substitution of presence that is being called forth through articulation, not an absence, but the performance of that entreaty and its trace.92 The supplement both adds and replaces. This is also where an ‘‘absent presence’’ or ‘‘present absence’’ loses its livelihood, theoretically, for although a certain vitality is always on the verge of materiality, it is never present, absent, or both at the same time in its articulation. As Derrida argues, it is ‘‘not presence of the object which moves us but its phonic sign.’’93 The supplement is a representation – a supplement to presence-absence – and this representation of ‘‘presence’’ has therefore been chosen over actual perception, affect, and their leftovers. A representation of presence, such as signaling


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the form or aesthetic of ‘‘punk,’’ is performed over and over again. As a phonic ‘‘sign,’’ punk music garners the potential to play with difference (like differance), with the excess that lies outside any rationale of singular determination and representation. Like the performative, the representation ‘‘promises itself as it escapes, gives itself as it moves away, and strictly speaking it cannot even be called presence.’’94 For that matter, the supplement cannot be called absence either, as much as that desire for ‘‘absence’’ is theatrical, seductive, and ultimately a possibility. Yet, the supplement ‘‘dispenses with passage through the world’’95 of experience; it does something and it’s done, only to come back again as an iteration96 separating the imitation from that which it imitates. The supplement is never here and now, it cannot be thought. The more we try to pin it down the more holes appear in its proxy narrative. Parks expresses this notion well with the ubiquity of holes in The America Play. Holes are dug only to be filled with more articulations; narratives are added only to replace the presence of a source, a presence reappropriated or vice versa. This is what ostensibly makes the hole not (w)hole, but incomplete, because ‘‘it lacks something in order for the lack to be filled, it participates in the evil that it should repair’’ and creates the illusion of presence/absence by some kind of felt necessity for an economy.97 The black (w)hole attempts to evade the supplemental system, although both are imaginaries. The holes are more than, not less than. There is a promise inherent in supplemental spaces, as there is in Hammonds’s black (w)hole, but they are not quite the same thing. The black (w)hole trope invents its own sources, articulations, and renditions to archive; it invents customized anterior spaces. To track the genealogy of a supplement, one needs to enter its space, the (w)hole of its affective production and articulation. The ‘‘black (w)hole’’ trope acts like a trace, guiding us back to the punk event, beyond its originary moment. Mona´e does this by passing through and producing a sonic supplemental space for archiving black feminism in her performances. She concocts black feminist elsewheres and imaginaries in the sonic and visual performance of ‘‘Many Moons’’ and the futuristic serialization of Mayweather’s continuing narrative. Not only does she evoke tropes of afrofuturism, with her penchant for sci-fi machines, but she conducts genealogical iterations of self-referential traces, such as the gathering storm and ending refrain of ‘‘Many Moons’’ played backwards on the ‘‘Neon Gumbo’’ interlude of the next installment in the series (her second album), Archandroid: Suite II & III. The serialization of Mayweather’s story reflects back to previous suites and songs. She holds the ‘‘magic wand’’ that gestures phonic traces of materiality and fugitivity, with multiple performance stages. The self-referential nature of a supplemental structure sets up its own limits, such as a word or a thing, inventing a chain of supplements. Mona´e’s slightly mysterious mention of the year 1954 as ‘‘an army’’ in the liner notes of Archandroid has a direct connection to the start of a rebellious army that Wondaland and Mayweather inspire; things are not what they seem and this time the army sits among other key events: Brown v. Board of Education, the start of the second phase of the Civil Rights Movement, the year colonial revolt started in Algeria, and the start of the Vietnam War as the French also pulled out of Laos.98 In the music video for ‘‘Many Moons’’ the set contains an android fashion runway,


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reminiscent of an auction block, the masses below, the rich bidders in the stands, and the bandstand behind the thrust stage where Mona´e traces her own wand to point out the substitutes of discourse, one that even substitutes itself in a mutual relationship of interminable supplementarity. As her signature hair-do becomes undone another realm touches down. Punk and our own relation to Mona´e’s scene is an important part of the sonic supplement and breaks up its generic History. With multiple iterations of the android in the companion short video film of ‘‘Many Moons,’’ her gestures and stillness express vitality, a beyond, and trace a design in space, an imaginary, but also a punk difference, signifying something old and new. On the one hand, Styrene’s vision has come to fruition in this scene, and one Cindi has failed to assimilate. On the other, deferred and absent meaning allows for ‘‘new imaginings and resurgences,’’ in that radical visionary afrofuturistic kind of way. Geometries yet to be seen enable other feminisms and sexualities to construct a history in the fragmentary wholeness of performance and articulation of writing another way of life. At the same time, articulation in the space of a black (w)hole – drawing from Stuart Hall and numerous Womanists and Black Feminists – is not only a strategy of coalitional power, but also, domination. Articulations become political and social formations. For instance, when the last French Prime Minister Nicholas Sarkozy, then Interior Minister, declared to the press that he will ‘‘karcherise’’ (‘‘clean’’) the ghettos in the banlieues of the ‘‘racaille’’ (‘‘scum’’) after the riots outside Paris in the 2000s, his utterance performed a strategic articulation of ethnic cleansing. By virtue of the complex history, contemporary context, and popular use of these words, they are rife with racial and ethnic overtones and serve to instill fear, to damage an already heated situation, and to prolong colonial domination. The way the rioters are rationalized and articulated in ‘‘regimes of truth’’ and narratives is not with a multiply cast singularity of poverty, ‘‘but as the feckless, the layabouts, the underclass.’’99 Through articulation they are designated as a new political subject with historical force. In other words, this response can be a tendentious and repetitive performance of non-history where regimes of de-articulation occur. Histories and genealogies are either ignored, unarticulated, or manipulated in a political supplement of this kind. Equally, we can say that punk and skinheads are racist and sexist, or like many black punks have encountered from black non-punks, if you are into punk then you are seen as white, but this kind of articulation, as Jennifer Nash warns, contributes ‘‘to ‘the logic of the trial’, to the production of a normatively driven intellectual project which condemns unequal practices in lieu of locating the mechanisms through which structures of domination are articulated in varying social moments.’’100 The enigmatic ‘‘trial’’ and apparent ‘‘law’’ of revolution only furthers the practices and regimes set in place. An account of singular and connective ‘‘mechanisms’’ then attends to the geometry and angular momentum, as well as the detection and uncertainties, of social and interactional persistence. The black (w)hole is there, even if it is not visible, its vitality is experienced in other social and sensorial ways.101 Black feminism and punk is not an easy fit in some ways, but many scenarios over time have interrupted the archive and transformed into supplemental spaces of


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negotiation, a time-lag strategy and mass-electric charge. In Location of culture, Homi Bhabha brings Hall and Derrida together via articulation and the supplement to say that theory itself does not appear ‘‘‘prior’ to the contingency of social experience’’ and cultural identity.102 In discourse, or in the archive, there is no need to locate some origin or contextualize some pre-given presence. Bhabha stresses that ‘‘we must always keep open a supplementary space for the articulation of cultural knowledges that are adjacent and adjunct but not necessarily accumulative, teleological, or dialectical.’’103 Unlike Hebdige, his discussion of cultural difference and the postcolonial turns supplementarity into a strategic social articulation of space and time, a vent of necessary variation and possibility that forms an anterior capacity. This social breach, like a black (w)hole, surges into a politics that ‘‘intervenes to transform the scenarios of articulation – not simply to disclose the rationale of political discrimination.’’104 If the supplement is known to be both adding (a surplus) and replacing (by proxy), like it is filling a void in time (as if it could), then these scenarios and the black (w)hole trope develop a supplemental third space. This becomes necessary because, as in Rousseau’s musing on the ‘‘dangerous supplement,’’ where singing was gradually separated from speech (more articulation and less accentuation), the need for articulation (written languages) versus inflection hollowed out its own means of communication.105 The supplement becomes ‘‘dangerous’’ when the supplement turns hegemonic and continually positions itself in place of the presence, somewhere else. But as Derrida points out, a representation is already legibly a menace, yet in its iteration it also holds protection and assurance against that same menace.106 Interestingly, punk held the future of a ‘‘menace to society,’’ queer and all, but then ran with the attitude of fuck-your-articulations, spit-in-your-face symbolism, and aesthetics of disorder. In other words, there is the supplement and the necessity for a supplementary space and in this case, it is the supplement that brings about the latter – Janelle ‘‘I’m an alien from outer space’’107 Mona´e – demonstrates the making of this space through her performance. Making up and articulating something different can be precarious and unstable, but it could also be seen as a de-representation, as being ‘‘tied to the work of spacing’’108 and making room for other versions. In ‘‘Many Moons,’’ Mona´e’s use of sound, which has the ability to penetrate and touch an interiority, implying that its reception is incumbent, displays a certain violent charge, or can, and also the ability to install another imaginary in another time and space. Her sonic performance assumes ‘‘an originary synesthesia,’’109 inhales like a black hole, cuts through and comes closest to sensing something like an origin. Because of the multiple strands coming together, it is like you’re almost there, like the source of a projection, like you could take Mona´e’s hand when she reaches out from her white horse and sings: ‘‘And when the world just treats you wrong/Just come with us and we’ll take you home.’’110 At the start of her short film for the song, we see the multiple versions of the clone android, we meet the singular Cindi, and we hear her siren-like ‘‘voodoo’’ undersong vocals commune with the organ, the tangled sound of old ska, carnivals, church, The Damned, mod metal punk, and Jimmy Smith. The siren vocals and the narrative she constructs reflect a similar hyper-vigilance as Styrene’s ‘‘Genetic Engineering.’’


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Figure 5. Janelle Mona´e, Live at Bumbershoot 2009. Photo by Robert Ham.

Alpha Platinum 9000 android Cindi, introduced as ‘‘the toast of the town,’’ gets ready to come out on stage, she touches her temples, turning her video inverse image from white to black. Through a negative charge, she becomes more visible. As the women in the audience scream, the song increases in layers of sound, and she is about to slip into a trance, when she goes into a ‘‘Cybernetic Chantdown: . . . Black girl, bad hair; Broad nose, cold stare . . . Closed mind, dark hold; Cybergirl, droid control; Get away now they trying to steal your soul . . . White house, Jim Crow; Dirty lies, my regards.’’111 The body intermixes with space, politics, and the historical psyche. As she throws the microphone down and dances more intensely, there are images of neutron-bomb explosions layered into the performance shot, above and below her, and bands of marching soldiers. Mayweather’s eyelashes flutter uncontrollably. She begins to levitate in the air. Suddenly, a jolt of electricity moves through her body, everyone looks puzzled. 6ix Savage, the Polis Chief, takes his sunglasses off and watches in disbelief. Does her circuitry overheat from the power of her performance or is this power something else? Does she transcend to an android elsewhere, a ‘‘shangri-la?’’ Does she mediate the black (w)hole by venturing into a supplemental space, the android underground? By reproducing the artifacts, back down through the supplemental, over the gaps, she mediates the cosmology of the many moons, not necessarily in the plural Saturn sense, but also the many moons ago – a genealogy that covers many histories, the event set of the ‘‘Cybernetic Chantdown,’’ and the changes that surface over generations and light years away (Figure 5).


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The process of sonic detection supplements punk’s history, but more importantly, it also redefines the space of punk performance and brings other black feminist sexualities to light. Rather than just relying on a ‘‘queer’’ intervention, a proposal that Hammonds questioned for its all-inclusive character and timbre for locating specific instances of black female sexualities, archival detection serves to move beyond and unsettle categories and entrenched racialized notions of sexuality in a way that other, more ambiguous yet transitive, definitions of ‘‘queer’’ imply. But categories like ‘‘punk’’ become articulated in the same old domination patterns, precarious binaries, and neoliberal pop economies of ambivalence. The womanist and black female sexualities counter and discount a singular narrative and definition of punk, but they also destabilize the attachment of supplements that aim to fit into it. Finding counter-politics and resistance in a supplemental system that writes its own limits, its origins, and performance might send the archives and theories into a tailspin, but this punk constellation has no known origin. And if we can begin to acknowledge, detect, and consider punk in that non-singular time and space we might shift the consent, form, and production of its allegorical ways.

Acknowledgements My deepest thanks to Fiona Ngoˆ, Sandra Ruiz, Jeanne Vacarro, Lydia Brawner, Alex Pittman, Krista Miranda, Maya Winfrey, Josh Javier Guzma´n, and Patricia Clough for overall awesomeness, support, and editing prowess through the process of developing this project. To Judith Casselberry, Daphne Brooks, Tavia Nyong’o, Jose´ Mun˜oz, Karen Shimakawa, Ann Pellegrini, and Barbara Browning for writing and research direction and conversation. To Mimi Thi Nguyen, Jennifer C. Nash, Ann Powers, and Robert Vorlicky for superlative suggestions and/or use of pre-published writings for my research. To Nicole Daunic, Ebony Noelle Golden, Chelsea Adewumni, Kara Jesella, Carla Briscoe, Samara Gaev, Serap Erincin, Nandita Dinesh, Beth Elkins, Krista Knight, Casey Cleverly, Ayanna Lee, and Summer Kim Lee for being ever so insightful and patient. To the two anonymous peer reviewers, whose invaluable critiques and edits propelled me to go much further. To that one substitute teacher in high school who so briefly rocked my little punk world with her reading of James Baldwin. And finally, to Stefanos Tsigrimanis, who passed on to another time and space way too soon.

Notes on contributor Elizabeth Stinson is a Ph.D. Candidate in Performance Studies at New York University. Her dissertation researches transnational networks, development, and postcoloniality. She grew up in Los Angeles, CA, where she used her brother, who was a bartender, to see free shows at the Starwood Club on Santa Monica Blvd, played in several bands, and wrote zines. After receiving a B.A. from California State University, Los Angeles in Theatre Arts, she went to University of California, Irvine for an M.F.A. in Acting/Drama of all things. Prior to moving to New York for academic studies, Beth resided in Olympia, WA, where she performed with various groups and joined forces to organize several events and festivals including Ladyfest and Homo A Gogo. She recently published a chapter, ‘‘Zombified Capital in the Neocolonial Capital: Circulation (of Blood) in Sony Labou Tansi’s Parentheses of Blood,’’ in Race,


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Oppression, and the Zombie, edited by C. Moreman and C. J. Rushton. She is also on the Editorial Board of Women & Performance: A journal of feminist theory.

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Notes 1. Osa Atoe, emphasis added; excerpt from a 2009 Maximumrock’n’roll (MRR) issue, archived on a blog called ‘‘Thread & Circuits’’ by Mimi Nguyen. In the same column she also wrote: ‘‘People of color, empowered by the words and deeds of those who came before us, building community with each other, and ready to fuck shit up.’’ Also see Sabin (1999, 5). 2. Curry Malott and Milagros Pen˜a conducted a late-1990s sociological study, which entailed combing through 3886 US punk recordings from 1980–97. The study broke down its participant findings by categories of sex and race: White Males, Nonwhite Males, White Females respectively. The study indicates a breakdown of 85% white males, 10% nonwhite males, and 5% white females, excluding ‘‘nonwhite,’’ women of color. Malott and Pen˜a (2004, 90). 3. Henderson (1992, 145). She notes that ‘‘simultaneity of discourse’’ was inspired by Barbara Smith, from her edited volume Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology. 4. Queer punk, queercore, and homocore are seen as an offshoot or corollary of punk. They are somewhat interchangeable names for GLBTQ-related social movements within the punk subculture and mainstream gay and lesbian culture that emerged in the 1980s. Many point to particular bands, artists, and zines to locate an origin for them. For background on and more information about the 1990s riot grrrl punk girl feminist movement, see Lisa Darms’s ‘‘The Riot Grrrl Collection’’ and Mimi Nguyen’s ‘‘Riot Grrrl, Race, and Revival’’ in this issue. 5. A remote third interconnection would be the addition of the song ‘‘Kids of the Black Hole’’ by The Adolescents, a 1980s punk band from Los Angeles/Orange County. 6. Working with Albert Einstein’s field equations for general relativity, astrophysicist Karl Schwarzschild first proposed the idea of an event horizon and a limit point of a radius, where mass exceeds a gravitational field triggering a collapse. The density of this mass is giant, but extremely small and compact, and any light emitted is barely visible – hence, a black hole. 7. Hammonds (2004, 304). 8. Hebdige (1979, 68). 9. Derrida (1997). 10. Foucault (1984, 76). 11. The essay can be found in numerous publications since its debut in Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies in 1989. 12. Tracking the black (w)hole trope used by Hammonds and Wallace we can see how they have updated Baker’s literary perspective. Baker demonstrates how the metaphor became a trope to designate a vital space of expression. Baker formulated the parenthetical doubling of ‘‘(w)hole’’ to locate a transformational space and process of creativity through the black hole of white-dominated society to another universe of black cultural expression and ‘‘wholeness.’’ Analyzing writers like Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, and Ralph Ellison, he also plays on and critiques the standard reading of ‘‘lack’’ that responds to illegibility by opening the privilege doors, or closing them, and instead places autonomy and desire within the supposed black hole as ‘‘a suggestion of feeling and constitution,’’ a multi-dimensional event with invisibly attractive force (Baker 1984, 140, 144). In doing so, Baker asks what signals this (w)holeness, and he responds: the need ‘‘to escape incarcerating restraints of a white world . . . and to engage the concentrated, underground singularity of experience that results in a blues desire’s expressive fullness,’’ the singularity of a communicative cluster (151). By ‘‘underground’’ Baker intends to draw parallels with not only the subterranean, but subcultural space as well. (Perhaps Jacques Lacan’s work in The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: The Psychoses


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17. 18. 19.

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1955–1956 would also be useful to engender a relationship between race and psychoanalysis, via the hole.) For Wallace, the black (w)hole trope reproduces ‘‘the dense accumulation, without explanation or inventory, of black feminist creativity’’ (2008, 218). She speaks of the unrecognized parallels, but also unregulated and unmapped deep space as a necessity. Wallace’s essay, ‘‘Variations on Negation and the Heresy of Black Feminist Creativity,’’ responds to harsh criticisms of her previous book while linking negated and buried bodies to the gaps in dominant discourse, which can be read through the tropological allegory (216). (Her previous book is entitled Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman.) The work of this link is similar to Mary Helen Washington’s suggestion: ‘‘We listen for the silences, we look for who is absent, we try to name the nameless, to see the faces of those made faceless’’ (1995, 199). Perhaps the poetic bearing of Washington’s sensorial series is less a literal seeking than a stillness of something there all along, which optical privileging and general assumption conceals. Hammonds (2004, 310). See Rey Chow’s discussion of white feminism and the supplement in Protestant ethnic and the spirit of capitalism (2002, 160, 182). Baker (1984, 149). Fred Moten, in his essay ‘‘Taste dissonance flavor escape,’’ considers a similar train of thought proposed by Daphne Brooks called fugitivity, an outlaw state of belonging and escape ‘‘that may well prove to veer away from freedom as its telos’’ (2007, 223). In this ‘‘preface for a solo by Miles Davis,’’ Moten does include his own version: ‘‘w/holes’’ (218), however fugitivity works without the exclusivity of a black hole, meaning one where no information (or mass) is able to escape outward – although this characteristic may not apply anymore, since recent research and scientific theories are outlining a reversal of this one-way conceptual and cosmic phenomena. In a more recent article, he clarifies this space: ‘‘What’s at stake is fugitive movement in and out of the frame, bar, or whatever externally imposed social logic – a movement of escape, the stealth of the stolen that can be said, since it inheres in every closed circle, to break every enclosure’’ (2008, 179). Tracking the affect and etymology of the word ‘‘punk’’ through Kalup Linzy’s performance work, Nyong’o comes upon the ‘‘hole or aperture’’ of punk attitude, one through which much history can be seen. Then, traversing the topology of this hole, he finds a passively ‘‘unavailable body that makes an available space’’ (2010 75). This ‘‘body’’ is in constant motion, so much so that its anticipated drive forward is simultaneously its radical withdrawal. Wallace (2008, 229). Emphasis added. Rees (2005, 263). Daphne Brooks combs the archives of narration in aesthetic practices to locate the negotiations of visibility, sexual will, and the iconicity of ‘‘representational timelessness projected onto blackness’’ (2006, 6, 341). Kara Keeling theoretically weds the cinematic and the political implication of ‘‘common sense’’ and invents a perceptual device to track the black femme and the hegemony that conditions the ‘‘lingering logics of racism’’ (Keeling 2007, 1, 22). The cinematic is a Deleuzean term indicating a ‘‘radical Elsewhere,’’ much like a black (w)hole. Keeling deploys ‘‘common sense’’ as a useful device to call attention to a shared set of images that affect perception (14). Jennifer C. Nash advocates a practice of reading racial iconography and posing non-normative considerations of 1970s pornographic representations to uncover mechanisms embedded in representations of black female sexuality and subjectivity (2008, 63). Nicole Fleetwood investigates how ‘‘systems of visuality’’ are rooted in performance and not only produce troubled vision, but, on the other hand, can also trouble existing stigmas of visibility (2011, 122). She notes the nuanced understanding of incommensurability in Hammonds’s text that shuttles ‘‘the black female body as troubling presence in dominant culture’’ (121). Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks literally sets the (w)hole in the space of the stage for further inquiry by foregrounding race and historical myths as characters in The America Play.


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20. Cvetkovich (2003, 8). 21. Derrida (1997, 240). 22. Unfortunately, there is not room enough here to thoroughly research the detailed politics and sociality of ‘‘girl’’ and ‘‘grrrl,’’ such as how do they operate sonically and interpellatively as well as the appropriation dynamics in a third wave feminist ‘‘girl love’’ reclamation context. One cultural communications study by Karla D. Scott tracked the discursive markers of identity in the usage of ‘‘girl’’ among Black women participants and its dynamic interplay with ‘‘look’’ (2000). There is another article by Ednie Kaeh Garrison who credited popularity of ‘‘girl’’ to ‘‘young American black women’’ with the specific phrase ‘‘You go, guuuurlll!’’ and made a brief link to the ‘‘revolution girl style now’’ of Riot Grrrl (2000, 141). 23. The Gullah (or Geechee) reside along the coast and islands of South Carolina and Georgia and have maintained a strong connection to their African language and spiritual beliefs. During the slave trade, they were shipped mostly from areas along the coast of Sierra Leone. See also the film Daughters of the Dust, directed by Julie Dash. 24. Womanist Alice Walker invokes the importance of spirituality in the African diasporic continuum. The lived nuances of spirituality link to sonic spirituals and how forms of spirituality and vitality make sound multidimensional. ‘‘Womanist,’’ as defined by Walker’s In Search of our Mother’s Garden, speaks to the potential and actualization of Black feminism or feminism of color (1983, xi). The spiritual aspect connotes an incalculable vitality, a spirit that cannot be supplemented by any unwanted outside force. This distinction points to a utopic wholeness and multiplicity of the body and the surrounding space. 25. Boyd (2010). 26. Lyrics for ‘‘Boot’’ courtesy of Tamar-kali. 27. My everlasting gratitude and love to colleague Ebony Noelle Golden for offering this connective insight. Lyrics for ‘‘Four Women’’ courtesy of Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. 28. See Mun˜oz (2011), for a discussion of ‘‘vitalism’’ in relation to ‘‘stagings and renderings of e´lan vital that manifested the ontological force of brownness as a mode of particularity in multiplicity’’ in Ana Mendieta’s work (192). This trace of iconicity and affect from a past life and world (real or imagined) is also the kind of vitality I am referring to here. 29. Hammonds (2004, 304). 30. Carby (1992, 741). 31. One such example is Sikivu Hutchinson, ‘‘Bad ‘Bitches’, True women’’, The Feminist Wire. August 9, 2011. http://thefeministwire.com/2011/08/bad-‘‘bitches’’-true-women/. 32. Boyd (2010). 33. ‘‘Hardcore’’ (HC) is a term used by punks and critics alike to distinguish a movement in 1980s punk rock that veered abruptly away from the mainstreaming and commercialism of punk, like the softer ‘‘new wave’’ top 40 hits (Taylor 2003, 71). HC encompasses a commitment to political values and unflagging sensibility of alternative practice. 34. One of the main arguments of Patricia Hill Collins’s substantial volume revolves around a discussion of ‘‘controlling images’’ that objectify and position the black women within a dominant framework, the visual iconographic and political stereotypes and permutations in popular culture that limit the geometry of being and stifle empowerment. Using this tool, she deftly works through the iconography and mechanisms behind institutional racism and misogyny. Drawing on cultural traditions, she also suggests several ideas for countering the persistent ‘‘suppression of black feminist thought,’’ such as ideas of ‘‘self-definition’’ [through the power of naming as well as collective independence, conscious individuation, space, and intimacies], ‘‘constructed knowledges’’ [feminist knowledge and thought that attempts to resolve rampant and ubiquitous social contradictions], and an investigation of the


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37.

38. 39.

40. 41.

42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53.

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performance and spectrum of roles involved in affective labor of black women in the US (2000, 97–114). In the film Afro-punk, Tamar-kali is interviewed in her apartment; a poster of Betty Davis hangs in the background. The influence is strongly evident in her music. Many of Davis’s songs, particularly ‘‘They say I’m different,’’ achieve rock funkiness to the punk degree and add a level of sexuality that deploys the dirty, nasty towards the sublime and ‘‘anti-profane.’’ Her songs perform complicated sexual dynamics through the instrumentality. Both artists musically determine – by all means – how cross power identifications happen, work, and get replayed. Collins talks about the importance, precarity, and elusiveness of safe spaces (2000, 111) and how an institutional or formal ‘‘safe spaces’’ can be threatening and constitute a dominating homogeneity of vocal and visual power play. Moten delves into the ‘‘crawlspace’’ where Harriet Jacobs hid for seven years ‘‘to escape mastery’s sexual predation’’ (2007, 219 – also in the paragraph on 239, where Moten has 17-plus ‘‘in’’ enunciations). He speaks of a space of dissonant escape, but also of its confinement, outside the law, for reasons of preservation. Here, the possibility of wholeness lingers in the details and goes on to infinity via ‘‘the rickety bridge between things and the whole they (de)form’’ (2007, 220). Sara Marcus’s recent book, Girls to the front (2010), documents one of the first conventions where such a workshop took place. In an attempt to follow the feminist archives, the actual Riot Grrrl Collection at the Fales Archive holds a notebook of Kathleen Hanna’s that is of great relevance here. The cover of the notebook says ‘‘Riot Grrrl – Test Patterns,’’ and it details Hanna’s original vision for riot grrrl and future conventions with a sense of communism: ‘‘Unless there is enough rep. among the vegan, Black, young, lesbian, etc. . . . community NO decision will be made till ALL PEOPLE will be considered. . . . RG is dedicated to anti-racist work in THEORY/PRACTICE and thus MUST HAVE women of color among its Elite.’’ Kathleen Hanna Papers, Fales Archive, NYU. Wallace (2008, 220). Elam and Rayner (2001, 184). Also see Nyong’o, ‘‘Punk’d Theory’’ for a discussion of punk/queering theory through a consideration of race; Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place for more on alternative and queer temporalities; Alexander, Pedagogies of Crossing, for expounding discussions on time, empire, and feminism; Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology, for her treatment of orientation and disorientation as they relate to space and the body; and Mun˜oz, Cruising Utopia for more on the potentiality and temporality of the space of stages. Moten (2003, 39). Hebdige (1979, 68). Full quote from the ‘‘Bleached Roots’’ section of chapter 3: ‘‘To use a term from semiotics, we could say that punk includes reggae as a ‘present absence’ – a black hole around which punk composes itself.’’ Next page: ‘‘At the heart of the punk subculture, forever arrested, lies this frozen dialectic between black and white cultures.’’ Ibid., 132. Ibid., 62–70, 121. Ibid., 69. Ibid., 68. McRobbie (1990, 23). Nyong’o (2005, 22–3). Ngoˆ (forthcoming). Hebdige (1979, 18). Eshon (1998, 2). Hebdige (1979, 67). Ibid., 121. Traber (2001, 36).


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54. Hebdige (1979, 120). Skinheads, according to Hebdige’s observation, refer to mods, a subculture that turned more towards reggae, ska, and rocksteady in the late 1960s to cultivate a hard-edge look and manner of a ‘‘puritanical’’ lumpen proletarian (55) and, ironically, turned against immigrants. In the U.S., and in the manner in which I am referring to them, the skins phenomena in punk scenes later turned towards violent and conservative ‘‘white power’’ tendencies, aka ‘‘Nazi Punks.’’ As Craig O’Hara conveys in Philosophy of Punk: ‘‘The middle and late eighties showed Skinheads to be the enemies of a constructive Punk scene with constant violence at concerts and ties to racist organizations’’ (1999, 49). 55. Ibid., 44. 56. This sonic archiving is partially recuperative; the pulsating flash in the punk universe that is X-Ray Spex was fairly well documented, particularly Styrene’s influential performance for future riot grrrls. 57. Lyrics for ‘‘Genetic Engineering’’ courtesy of Agelong Music Publishing, Inc./Maxwood Music Ltd. 58. Hall (1996, 468). 59. Bangs (2004, 105). 60. Although President Barack Obama provides more than just a visuality of hope for this equality, he also points to a ‘‘black hole in history’’ that could have unfolded a discourse on the historicity of race during his campaign, but rather functioned as a closure in many ways, as Angela Davis voiced in an October 2008 ‘‘Barnard Center for Research on Women’’ speech (available via podcast). 61. Porter and Austen (2002). 62. McNeil and McCain (2006, 208). 63. Tate (1992, 20); Nyong’o (2005). 64. Nyong’o (2005, 30). 65. Ibid., 23. 66. Ibid. 67. Lyrics for ‘‘Black & White’’ courtesy of M.J. Zilla. 68. For a discussion of the differences and intersections of the homonyms, signifying and signifyin, as well as a historical and literary tracing of black tropes, see Gates (1988). 69. Spillers (2006, 25). 70. Quote is from a personal email interview with M.J. Zilla, July 2007. 71. Lorde (1995, 215). In Vodou spirituality, as practiced mainly in Benin and Haiti, Aida Hwedo (or Ayida-Weddo) is a loa spirit of fertility, rainbows, and snakes. 72. Nguyen (2010). 73. Regarding the Afro-punk festival and website (www.afro-punk.com), Tamar-kali once referred to Afro-punk as more of a ‘‘lifestyle brand.’’ She also highlights the typical music scene problem of the lack of visibility women performers receive on the annual festival stage. 74. James Spooner, Moe Mitchell, Tamar-kali, et al., Afro-punk: The ‘‘Rock n Roll Nigger’’ Experience, directed by James Spooner (Chatsworth, CA: Image Entertainment, 2006), DVD. 75. Hall (1996, 473). 76. Ibid., 468. 77. Nguyen (1997). 78. Nguyen (2007, 74). Chelsea and Jonah Peretti exemplify and evoke this performance of the constituted relationship between whiteness and blackness and the social anxieties around racism in a 2002 new media (net.art) piece called ‘‘Black People Love Us.’’ See http://www.blackpeopleloveus.com. Also, the ‘‘casual surprise’’ of the white reaction to seeing black people at the punk club, as conveyed in the film, is reminiscent of Frantz Fanon’s experience when a child pointed at him and essentially said the same thing, ‘‘Look, a Negro!’’ (Fanon 1967, 111).


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79. See McNeil and McCain (2006) and Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces (London: Faber & Faber, 2011). It is rather interesting how the origin narratives of punk circulate between the U.S. and the U.K. Another U.S. example includes Marvin Rev of Suicide in the documentary Kill your Idols, who explains how they started using the word ‘‘punk’’ to describe their own music after Lester Bangs used it to describe Iggy Pop in Creem Magazine. Dir. Scott Crary, 2004. DVD. 80. Liner notes from Janelle Mona´e, Metropolis: The Chase Suite, 2008. 81. Nyong’o (2005, 30–1). 82. Hoard (2010). 83. Felman (2002, 23). 84. Mun˜oz (2011, 148). 85. Derrida (1997, 243, 304). 86. Ibid., 149. 87. Atoe (2009). 88. Derrida (1997, 202). 89. See Spivak (1991), who argues that the precedence of the visual in History and Time conceals the wholly ‘‘lived’’ and the fusion of spacing and timing. 90. Trouillot (1995, 26). 91. Bhabha (1994, 254). Like Hall, Bhabha sees this form of articulation as ‘‘subverting the rationale of the hegemonic moment and relocating alternative, hybrid sites of cultural negotiation’’ (255). In the archival sense, I am also thinking of Derrida, Archive Fever and Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire here. 92. Derrida (1997, 270–80, 312). 93. Ibid., 240. Emphasis added. Society and law supplement nature and language, writing supplements speech, and any binary or dialectical designation of perception, sense, or spirit exhibits diffe´rance where either one may defer the other and easily open a space for a chain of supplements to defer ad infinitum – to be the representation of the represented who is representing the representation of the represented and so on. 94. Ibid., 154, 295. 95. Ibid., 197. 96. Theatre scholar Marvin Carlson suitably noted how the iteration of a supplement discloses ‘‘a potentially infinite series of future performances’’ (1985, 10). 97. Ibid., 226. 98. Liner notes from Janelle Mona´e, The Archandroid: Suites II and III. 99. Stuart Hall, from an interview with Lawrence Grossberg (1996, 144). 100. Nash (2008, 63). This quote from Nash also brings in yet another related text by Loı¨ c Wacquant, ‘‘For an analytic of racial domination,’’ Political Power and Social Theory 11 (1997): 221–34. 101. Who knows what is really in a black hole – recent research has proposed that a black hole contains two-dimensional information to project a three-dimensional reality, an infinity of supplemental spaces. On October 28, 2010, Dave Mosher from Wired Magazine reported on a Grote GEO600 machine being built by Craig Hogan that may be able to measure the holographic principle of a black hole. Recent theories say this principle occurs at the boundaries (the event horizon) of black holes, an area that reflects an illusion of 3D objects (in reality) from a 2D surface of information located in the black hole. In other words, Physics researcher Kate Becker explains, the holographic principle demonstrates that ‘‘our universe is a kind of cosmic phantom – that the real action is happening elsewhere, on a boundary that we have not yet begun to map.’’ Kate Becker, ‘‘Holograms, Black Holes, and the Nature of Reality,’’ NOVA on PBS.org, November 15, 2011. 102. Bhabha (1994, 257). 103. Ibid., 234. 104. Ibid., 232. 105. Derrida (1997, 149, 154, 199).


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106. In ‘‘The Case of Blackness,’’ Moten briefly points to the lived experience of blackness as the dangerous supplement that constitutes a ‘‘disordering, deformational force while at the same time being absolutely indispensable to normative order, normative form’’ (2008, 180). 107. Opening line for Mona´e’s track ‘‘Violet Stars Happy Hunting!’’ on The Chase Suite. 108. Derrida (1997, 203). 109. Ibid., 240. 110. Janelle Mona´e, ‘‘Many Moons,’’ Metropolis: The Chase Suite (2008). 111. Ibid.

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Morley, David, and Kuan-Hsing Chen, eds. 1996. Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies. London and New York: Routledge. Moten, Fred. 2003. In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ———. 2007. ‘‘Taste Dissonance Flavor Escape: Preface for a Solo by Miles Davis.’’ Women & Performance 17(2): 217–246. ———. 2008. ‘‘The Case of Blackness.’’ Criticism 50(2): 177–218. Mun˜oz, Jose´ Esteban. 2009. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: NYU Press. ———. 2011a. ‘‘Vitalism’s After-burn: The Sense of Ana Mendieta.’’ Women & Performance 21(2): 191–198. ———. 2011b. ‘‘The Sense of Watching Tony Sleep.’’ In After Sex? On Writing Since Queer Theory, edited by Janet Halley and Andrew Parker, 142–150. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Nash, Jennifer Christine. 2008. ‘‘Strange Bedfellows: Black Feminism and Antipornography Feminism.’’ Social Text 97(Winter): 51–76. Ngoˆ, Fiona I.B. forthcoming. Imperial Blues: Geographies of Race and Sex in Jazz Age New York. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Nguyen, Mimi. 1997. Evolution of a Race Riot Vols. 1 and 2. Self-Published Zine. Berkeley, CA: M. Nguyen. ———. 1998. ‘‘It’s (not) A White World: Looking for Race in Punk.’’ Punk Planet. Chicago: Unarchived Publication, November/December 1998. March 14, 2010. Accessed January 3, 2012. http://threadandcircuits.wordpress.com/2010/03/14/its-nota-white-world-looking-for-race-in-punk-1998/ ———. 2007. ‘‘Thoughts on the Movie Afro-punk.‘‘ In Youth Subcultures: Exploring Underground America, 72–77. New York: Pearson Education Inc. Nyong’o, Tavia. 2005. ‘‘Punk’d Theory.’’ Social Text 84–85(2005): 19–34. ———. 2010. ‘‘Brown Punk: Kalup Linzy’s Musical Anticipations.’’ TDR: The Drama Review 54(3) (2010): 71–86. O’Hara, Craig. 1999. Philosophy of Punk: More Than Noise. Edinburgh and San Francisco: AK Press. Parks, Suzan-Lori. 1995. The America Play and Other Works. New York: Theatre Communications Group. Porter, James, and Jake Austen. 2002. Black Punk Time: Blacks in Punk, New Wave and Hardcore 1976–1984. Roctober 32. Accessed January 3, 2012. http://www.roctober.com/ roctober/blackpunk1.html Rees, Martin, ed. 2005. Universe: The Definitive Visual Guide. New York: DK Publishing. Sabin, Roger, ed. 1999. Punk Rock: So What? The Cultural Legacy of Punk. London and New York: Routledge. Scott, Karla D. 2000. ‘‘Crossing Cultural Borders: ‘‘Girl’’ and ‘‘Look’’ as Markers of Identity in Black Women’s Language Use.’’ Discourse & Society 11(2): 237–248. Spillers, Hortense. 2006. ‘‘The Idea of Black Culture.’’ CR: The New Centennial Review 6(3): 7–28. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1991. ‘‘Time and Timing: Law and History.’’ In Chronotypes: The Construction of Time, edited by John Bender and David E. Wellbery, 99–117. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Spooner, James, Moe Mitchell, and Tamar-kali, 2006. Afro-punk: The ‘‘Rock n Roll Nigger’’ Experience. DVD. Directed by James Spooner. Chatsworth, CA: Image Entertainment.


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Tamar-kali. 2005. Boot. Geechee Goddess Hardcore Warrior Soul. MP3. New York: OyaWarrior Records. Tate, Greg. 1992. Flyboy in the Buttermilk. New York: Simon & Schuster. Taylor, Steven. 2003. False Prophet: Fieldnotes from the Punk Underground. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press. The Slack Republic. 2007. ‘‘Black & White.’’ Delta Strike. MP3. New York: Rock Slinger Incorporated. Traber, Daniel S. 2001. ‘‘L.A.’s ‘‘White Minority’’: Punk and the Contradictions of Selfmarginalization.’’ Cultural Critique 48: 30–64. Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. 1995. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon Press. Wade-Gayles, Gloria Jean, ed. 1995. My Soul is a Witness: African-American Women’s Spirituality. Boston: Beacon Press. Walker, Alice. 1983. In Search of Our Mothers’ Garden. New York: Harcourt. Wallace, Michele. 2008. Invisibility Blues: From Pop to Theory. London and New York: Verso. Washington, Mary Helen. 1995. ‘‘On Discovering Self and Empowerment in Black Women’s Literature.’’ In My Soul is a Witness, edited by Wade-Gayles, 192–200. X-Ray Spex. 2002 [1978]. ‘‘Genetic Engineering.’’ Anthology. CD. New York: Sanctuary Records. Zilla, M.J. 2007. Personal Email Interview, July.


& artists’s statements, polemics, essays, performance texts, manifestos, feminist and queer takes on current events and debates, and other creative critical engagements.


Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory Vol. 22, Nos. 2–3, July–November 2012, 315–323

Black Love? Black Love!: All Aboard the Presence of Punk in Seattle’s NighTraiN Jasmine Mahmoud*

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Department of Performance Studies, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL, USA

It’s New Year’s Eve 2010, and before counting down, I spend my evening at Columbia City Theater, a recently reopened performance venue in southeast Seattle, WA. After giving the doorman 10 dollars and walking down a brick hallway laced with beer-holding patrons, I enter the club space and join 150 revelers bedecked with tinsel and glittery hats. Then, to the tune of a three-note, hallucinatory keyboard melody, a rumble transforms into shouting voices. Out from speakers, I hear: Even Thomas Jefferson had an ebony honey. An African beauty that was brought to this country. She took his shit faithfully and produced for him fruitfully. Which made him a forefather, truly. Black love!1

These lyrics perform across national histories, race, sexuality, and power. These lyrics are from ‘‘Black love,’’ a song by NighTraiN, a toddler-aged punk band based in Seattle. Part of NighTraiN’s New Year’s Eve set, ‘‘Black Love’’ satisfies standard punk performance tenets: brevity, angst, amateurish delivery, and political irreverence that circuitously pushes against current public discourse. The members of NighTraiN also wear punk with do-it-yourself dresses – all handmade by the bassist – different in color and shape, united by adorning black tassels. NighTraiN is decidedly punk, and not by mere checkbox. The players – Rachael Ferguson, Selena Whitaker-Paquiet, Nicole Peoples, and Taryn Dorsey – are black and female. The New Year’s Eve set features eight mostly original songs, including the debut of ‘‘Reparations.’’ Between songs, the women of NighTraiN perform kitschy and affronting stage banter about pop icons and sex humor. As they perform, they exist in a stratum of landscapes: in 98118, one of the most ethnically diverse U.S. zip codes; in Seattle, where do-it-yourself aesthetics pervade; and at the end of 2010, a year of stifling budget crises and stilted anti-oppression discourse. They also perform black punk, which remains an understudied and – for some – an inconceivable form of black performance. Much discourse on punk furthers

*Email: j-mahmoud@u.northwestern.edu ISSN 0740–770X print/ISSN 1748–5819 online ! 2012 Women & Performance Project Inc. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2012.720824 http://www.tandfonline.com


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Figure 1. NighTraiN, 2010. The Funhouse, Seattle, WA. Photo by Jasmine Mahmoud.

perceived incompatibilities between ‘‘black’’ and ‘‘punk [as a whites only marginal genre]’’ and fails to acknowledge that non-white bodies, too, are parts of participatory subcultures.2 This mediation of NighTraiN opens space to counter perceived incompatibilities between black and punk by articulating a performance of intimacy, politics, and identities through and beyond music.

A New Year of black love ‘‘There are two angels watching over us tonight, Captain Beefheart and Teena Marie.’’ This, Rachael Ferguson announces part-way through the night’s set, invoking two cultural icons who passed in December 2010. Ferguson, who stands tooling the keyboard, is the lead vocalist. As front woman, Ferguson is commanding, physically and rhetorically. She often wears kitschy costumes (such as of a lion or Snow White), and tonight she rocks her custom blue dress. Her plump cheeks beam with sustained possibilities. She perennially captures the audience with germane, quick-witted, and pithy stage banter. Later that evening, Ferguson and Selena Whitaker-Paquiet, the bassist, express disappointment that a video for ‘‘Sex Video,’’ a song by following band Dyme Def, ‘‘had no dong in it.’’ Extemporaneous and personal articulations of humor and culture, this banter provides iterative moments of non-rhythmic performance with which the audience can reflexively connect through collective consciousness-raising. Each woman of NighTraiN plays an instrument, sings, and wears her hair differently. Ferguson sports an afro; Whitaker-Paquiet has twists; Taryn Dorsey


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(who impossibly drums and sings while standing up) wears a pixie; and Nicole Peoples, on guitar, rocks a curly, cropped style. The impact, especially while watching ‘‘Black love’’ performed, is black love performed. Here is a united, yet diverse set of black women standing, shouting, and screaming. Here is wit, hype, radical, and visceral. Here is beauty and performance of blackness across difference but with confident collectivity. The song’s refrain, ‘‘Black love, black love,’’ is sung ardently with soulful harmonies, and enlists the mostly white audience to chant without pause and with love, ‘‘Black Love!’’ The effect: a celebration of black love as echo and anthem, a celebration that recognizes and eschews forced racial binaries. I feel united with this audience. We – the four women on stage, the largely white audience, my ChineseAmerican friend, and I (a black female) – have approached a frenzied trance. We have boarded NighTraiN. On this eve of resolution making, this temporary closeness comfortably immerses me in a space otherwise deemed uncomfortable. This is a space where we, together, we resolve to chant ‘‘black love!,’’ a space where radical transracial intimacy is predicated on that collective, unfettered, and proclaimed love of blackness.

Please, please, please By now, the audience is shimmying. Towards the set’s end, NighTraiN is invoking something old for the New Year: a cover of James Brown’s ‘‘Please, Please, Please.’’ Brown’s original employs a mid-tempo beat, and hears Brown begging through soulful calls of ‘‘please’’ and ‘‘I.’’ NighTraiN’s version is short (around two minutes), and moves with junky drums which invite shimmying. Ferguson’s delivery of Brown’s lyrics solicits the audience in call and response, uplifting us through this once-sad entreaty about begging your partner to stay. Their delivery of punk-ed up James Brown begs an interrogation. How does funk, as black angst music, perform as punk, often discursively conceptualized as white angst music3? NighTraiN’s performance of their next song, ‘‘Lady Cop,’’ provides some clues. ‘‘She would always carry her pistol half-cocked/More than a meter maid, a meter mistress,’’ Ferguson begins. Performed, ‘‘Lady Cop,’’ is playful and unknowingly captures the audience in gender politics. The song’s refrain goes: People call her bitch, but her name is Cheryl. Bitch! Her name is Cheryl. Bitch, her name is Cheryl.

Ferguson performs the refrain by switching her vocal cues to alter the intent of ‘‘bitch’’: first, as the term to describe Cheryl, second while inviting the audience to call Cheryl ‘‘bitch,’’ and third, chastising the audience for calling Cheryl ‘‘bitch.’’ The women of NighTraiN shout these lyrics alongside Ferguson, collectively sticking up for Cheryl’s sexuality and power. Doing so, they perform fluctuations, and slip across various intents of ‘‘bitch’’ to champion Cheryl, the song’s gender-queer parking cop. NighTraiN formed from Hot Grits, a play that ran Fall 2008 in downtown Seattle. When originally cast, none of the actors knew how to play music.


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Mid-way through rehearsals, Selena Whitaker-Paquiet was kicked out of the production. Preserving their collectivity, the original Hot Grits unit formed the real band, NighTraiN. As this real band with faux origins, NighTraiN has garnered notable attention. In The Stranger – Seattle’s weekly alternative – Jason Baxter wrote: ‘‘Nowadays the local foursome keep things real as fuck. Trading in swaggering, soulful, punk-inflected rock, NighTraiN’s appeal undeniably derives from the band’s aural homages to their Pacific NorthWest riot grrrl forebears, but thankfully, they own their sound completely.’’4 Absent in his review is race. Perhaps to some in progressive-ish Seattle, race doesn’t matter.5 But NighTraiN, I insist, makes coherent affective intimacies (Baxter describes them as ‘‘one charming package’’) because they loudly insert their blackness, alongside their womanism and queerness, into punk (Figure 2).

All aboard David Ensminger, Tavia Nyong’o, and Jose´ Mun˜oz provide useful interrogations of minoritarian punk. Ensminger sketches the present absence of blackness in popular discourse about punk, which largely denies that black punk does, or can, exist.6 With their hand-made dresses and independently released full-length album, Derailed, NighTraiN makes clothes, albums, and the space for those black

Figure 2. NighTraiN, 2010. Artopia, Seattle, WA. Photo by Jasmine Mahmoud.


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punk artists not otherwise acknowledged as fundamentality do-it-yourself and participatory. Of the scant black punk literature, a major focus is male black punk. In his 2006 bibliographic review, Nyong’o argues that because black American rock is seen as inauthentic, black (largely male) rock is excessively marginalized in popular culture.7 Nyong’o extends this idea (and I extend his argument to punk) with the claim that ‘‘many or most black rockers were first drawn to the music in predominantly white settings.’’8 That ‘‘most or many’’ frame is, in part, what NighTraiN produces: black punk performed to largely white audiences. And yet NighTraiN also anchor their affinity to soul and funk in their performance of punk. In Cruising utopia, Mun˜oz sketches hopeful potentialities of punk as amateurish and anticipatory. ‘‘The performance of amateurism, in both punk and Kelsey’s example of queer performance, signal a refusal of mastery and an instance on process and becoming,’’9 he writes. Mun˜oz unites punk’s process-laden operation with a consciousness of the insufficiency of the present, or as he writes, with ‘‘an idealist mode of critique that reminds us that there is something missing, that the present and presence (and its opposite number, absence) is not enough.’’10 Mun˜oz’s affective point is that in punk’s refusal to be polished, in its wade through amateurish waters, punk makes felt spaces of otherwise amateur (as both radically loving, and unpolished and thus in process) practices. Similarly, in a 2010 article, ‘‘Brown punk: Kalup Linzy’s musical adaptations,’’ Nyong’o traces punk etymologically and topologically to posit that punk as the hole, or puncture, ‘‘enables a running through and out of the shit the world throws at its most vulnerable.’’11 Nyong’o’s articulations reveal punk as an ever-evolving topography that necessitates ‘‘perpetual transfiguration.’’12 NighTraiN can be read, in part, through these affective articulations of punk as ‘‘process and becoming’’ and as punctured ‘‘perpetual transfiguration.’’ NighTraiN burrows an engaging, plural, and transformative space for punk as black as woman as queer as music. NighTraiN gathers the audience to board, or to consciously process the insufficiency of the present, through their puncture as performed through an irreverent and inclusive black heroine-ism. The audience chants with these four black women because they engage us in history, in race, in queerness and in discomfort, and because they puncture and remind us, affectively and laboriously, of those engagements that the present so audaciously skips. This night, NighTraiN performs their anthem ‘‘NtN.’’ To a slow gurgling drumbeat, Ferguson begins the song with a theme of surprise. She sings: You won’t see us coming We’ll get you in the night. We’re coming fast muthafuckers. Gonna feel so right. Our sound will derail you. Grab something to hold. Choo choo muthafucker. All Aboard.

As NighTraiN incessantly engages the crowd through an inclusive disruption (‘‘our sound will derail you . . . All Aboard’’), we board.


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As inclusive disruptions pervade most of NighTraiN’s songs, the audience chants with these four black women because they risk engaging us, through performance, in radical intimate presence. The band risks shouting at (and with) those who look very different from them, those who will always look very different from them. In doing so, I think of black feminist theorist Barbara Smith, who wrote: ‘‘Black women have risked everything for truth.’’13 I think of how Mae Henderson sketches where artists enter, ‘‘simultaneously into familial, or testimonial and public, or competitive discourses – discourses that both affirm and challenge the values and expectations of the reader.’’14 And I think of Hortense Spillers, who considers this terrain of plural discourses and figures black feminist work therein as an excess, or ‘‘signifying property plus.’’15 These black feminists suggest how NighTraiN performs both within and beyond (or ‘‘plus’’) the puncture and the becoming that Nyong’o and Mun˜oz, respectively, describe. NighTraiN ‘‘challenge and affirm’’ ideas about punk because they root consciousness-raising processes and punctures to their presence. Their music is punk, but a punk rooted in their feminist blackness. Their blackness does not prevent their punk and their punk does not prevent their blackness. Rather, NighTraiN’s performances flip the anxiety Ensminger hints at, the anxiety signaled by the present absence of black punk in critical discourse because of what seems so incompatible across ‘‘black’’ and ‘‘punk.’’ NighTraiN’s punk accentuates their blackness, their feminism, their diverse raced bodies, their collective soulful voices, and their presence. Their music is neither a marginal marginalized marginalization, nor is it perennially beyond the present. Instead, within the space of punk – the amateur space of becoming – the members of NighTraiN find present spaces for their punk with radical soul, often occluded politics, and an amateur (in its root) love. It is as if punk – in its mainstream associations with marginal whiteness and seemingly impossible coherence with blackness – has further supported the risk-taking NighTraiN takes to shout truths and enlist audiences. It is as if punk – in its punctures and through its becomings – has reinforced how NighTraiN performs through a plural, coherent simultaneity gathered around inclusive disruptions, around the punctured presence of their black feminist bodies, and around their resonances that invite us all to board, and engage with, that presence (Figure 3). This night, the eve of 2011, NighTraiN introduces a new song, ‘‘Reparations.’’ With upbeat drums and messy guitar riffs, the song includes references to Oprah and white dread heads. Against these references – and alongside NighTraiN’s exclamation ‘‘If Black is beautiful then why don’t you pay me?’’– their delivery makes a claim on the audience and on society, with the unapologetic refrain ‘‘You owe me reparations.’’ NighTraiN invites this paying audience to consider what we owe to blackness within and outside of this performance. Through repetition, pop references, and collective invoking of the audience, NighTraiN makes the mature issue of racial inequities excessively present. We all stand closely together and shout along ‘‘you owe me reparations!’’ As NighTraiN performs so close to 2011, maybe our proximity to 2011 stands in for something else. We are so close to what NighTraiN performs: color, movement, rumble, ride. We are so close to radical becomings through excessively


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Figure 3. NighTraiN, 2012. KEXP; Photo credit Greg Stonebraker.

present reclaimings of blackness, womanism, queerness, and punk. NighTraiN makes dresses and songs, and makes us – as we shimmy and shout to their punk – so close.

Notes on contributor Jasmine Mahmoud is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Performance Studies at Northwestern University. Her research considers the political economy of experimental performance; in particular, she investigates how avant garde-led placemaking spatially and racially transformed the austere American city in the early 21st century. Jasmine received her M.A. in Arts Politics from NYU, and her B.A. in Government from Harvard University.


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Notes 1. Lyrics courtesy of NighTraiN. 2. As argues David Ensminger (2010) in ‘‘Coloring Between the Lines of Punk and Hardcore: From Absence to Black Punk Power.’’ 3. Or as Ensminger (2010) describes, ‘‘racialized and derided as white rebel music without much cause.’’ 4. Baxter (2010). 5. Race should always, especially in progressive-ish places, matter. There is, however, an unfocused, occluded race-consciousness in Seattle. The performance venue and its community speak to that scattered consciousness. Columbia City Theater was originally built in 1917, and during its near-century history presented vaudeville acts, jazz greats Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, and more recently alternative rock music. The current venue has an urban-loft-cocktail-lounge-for-hipsters aesthetic, and physically exists in Columbia City, a racially diverse south Seattle neighborhood which is quickly gentrifying due to its historic ‘‘charm’’ and proximity to Seattle’s new light-rail public transit. Columbia City is also within the 98118 zip code, celebrated in Seattle as its most diverse zip code and as one of the most diverse zip codes in United States. This is where 59 languages are spoken and Asian, East Africans, Whites, Blacks, Native Americans, Latina/os, and Hapas live alongside one another. But the Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle is no ‘‘small world’’ after all. The same month Columbia City Theater opened, June 2010, Angie’s – a dive bar across the street – closed when the state would not renew its liquor license. Angie’s was owned by Chinese-Americans and catered to middle-aged black men in an increasingly trendy neighborhood with wine bars. I provide this context because Seattle – the city where NighTraiN incubated, the city with the alternative mainstream paper that champions NighTraiN, the city that ostensibly celebrates diversity – has failed to have a courageous conversation about race relations and racial aftershocks. Interestingly, NighTraiN’s myspace url is: myspace.com/ seattlesux. 6. Ensminger (2010). 7. Nyong’o (2006, 184). 8. Ibid., 184. 9. Mun˜oz (2009, 106). 10. Ibid., 100. 11. Nyong’o (2010, 75). 12. Ibid., 75. 13. Smith (1985). 14. Henderson (1989, 20). 15. Spillers (1987, 257)

References Baxter, Jason. 2010. ‘‘Up & Coming: This Week’s Noteworthy Shows and Parties. (Preview of NighTraiN).’’ The Stranger, June 29. Accessed January 19, 2011. http:// www.thestranger.com/seattle/up-and-coming/Content?oid=4357784 Ensminger, David. 2010. ‘‘Coloring Between the Lines of Punk and Hardcore: From Absence to Black Punk Power.’’ Postmodern Culture 20(2). Henderson, Mae. 1989. ‘‘Speaking in Tongues: Dialogics and Dialectics and the Black Woman Writer’s Literary Tradition.’’ In Changing Our Own Words, edited by Cheryl Wall, 16–37. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Mun˜oz, Jose´. 2009. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: NYU Press.


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Nyong’o, Tavia. 2006. ‘‘Rip It Up: The Black Experience in Rock ‘n’ Roll, and: Right to Rock: The Black Rock Coalition and the Cultural Politics of Race, and: Afropunk: The ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger’ Experience (Review).’’ TDR 50(1): 183–187. ———. 2010. ‘‘Brown Punk: Kalup Linzy’s Musical Anticipations.’’ TDR 207: 71–86. Smith, Barbara. 1985. ‘‘Toward a Black Feminist Criticism.’’ In The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature and Theory, edited by Elaine Showalter, 168–185. New York: Pantheon Books. Spillers, Hortense J. 1987. ‘‘Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe.’’ Diacritics 17(2): 64–81.


Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory Vol. 22, Nos. 2–3, July–November 2012, 325–333

Sodom’s Daughters: The Removed and Forgotten Black Female of Punk Culture Gigi McGraw*

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Theater and Performance Studies, Villanova University, Philadelphia, PA, USA

This is a sketch, a blueprint – collective thoughts and research which detail the inspiration and development of a one-woman show on black females in punk rock culture. My title speaks to the disapproval and banishment of Sodom, a woman who is accused of reveling in the excesses of life with her daughters: ‘‘This was the guilt of your sister Sodom [. . .] They were haughty and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it’’ (Ezekiel 16: 46–50). Sodom and her daughters were punished because they chose to behave in a way that was not pleasing to the Lord. Punk history, largely written by white men, is guilty of casting a misty haze over the black female presence, which at times has led to the effacement of the black female punk from the re-telling of the early punk experience. An example of this removal is visible in the 1986 Alex Cos film ‘‘Sid & Nancy’’, the telling of the tragically flawed relationship between Sid Vicious, of The Sex Pistols, and Nancy Spungen, a troubled punk groupie. During a scene in the film, two characters are sitting in a local club where a woman in the background, who appears to be white, sings The X-Rey Spex song ‘‘Oh Bondage up Yours.’’ What is notable about this moment is that the actual artist, Poly Styrene, is biracial, of African and European ancestry. Would filmmakers cast an Asian Johnny Rotten or a Latina Siouxsie Sioux? Probably not. Who wants to face this situation? I have to do it every day I see no sign or changes Maybe the pressure’s here to stay Who cares if there’s no integration? Suspicion rules everyone’s lives If I am not of your persuasion I’m never welcome in your tribe. The Selecter, ‘‘Whip them down’’ (1978)

*Email: giggoal.mcgraw47@gmail.com ISSN 0740–770X print/ISSN 1748–5819 online ! 2012 Women & Performance Project Inc. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2012.720825 http://www.tandfonline.com


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Punk, much like its predecessor, rock and roll, provided inroads for blacks to contribute, participate, and, in some cases, assimilate to the white experience. Finally, it seemed, the definition of what it meant to be black began to expand, growing out and beyond old, limiting definitions. After the passing of integration laws in the United States and the United Kingdom in the late 1960s, and the continuous melding of white and black cultures, music and dance, those great social equalizers opened the door for both cultures to explore and play together with a lesser degree of impunity. And it is in such an environment that we set Sodom’s Daughters.

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***** I have crafted specific characters designed as prototypes, personalities that are compilations of real women of punk rock culture. These characters will also be representative of some of the sub-groups within punk culture such as Ska/2-Tone, a collaboration between Caribbean and Punk Rock rhythms; hardcore, a cacophonous fusion of thrashing guitar riffs and aggressive lyrics, and do-it-yourself punk; a hodge-podge of artists presenting varying degrees of musical abilities and showmanship, usually with lyrics emphasizing anti-establishment sentiments. In all three sub-sets mainstream’s definition of what constitutes acceptable music and lifestyle choices are cast aside. These three characters, Patty 2-Tone, Fey Hellion, and Southie will serve as the foundational base for the development of the one-woman show Sodom’s Daughters. Each character will present a typical day in the life of a punk rocker whether it is while performing on stage, at a club, or interacting with others, punk or non-punk.

(1) Crafted Character: Patty 2-Tone – 2-Tone/Ska rude-girl performer (Figure 1) A singer of 2-Tone (a derivative of ska) music, Patty is a black girl brought up in a white society by a white family. She desperately looks for her roots in music and friends. She connects to the energies of ska and Jamaican reggae, which influenced much of early British punk. She wears the standard 2-Tone style of black and white, with occasional red accents. Script re-writes in which Patty is West Indian may be explored. As a West Indian character, especially if in 1970s London during the period when reggae and punk interfaced, Patty can serve as an ambassador of sorts explaining the attraction between punk and reggae and the evolution of the two to produce 2-Tone. The history of African Caribbean’s migration to London during the 1960s could be expounded upon providing Patty with a back-story which not only explores the early punk/reggae connection but the espousal of the cultures and the role of women in the two predominately male-focused musical genres. Journalist, Leonie Cooper, of online news source The Guardian reviewed Helen Reddington’s book, The Lost Women of Rock Music: Female Musicians of the Punk Era. On August 7th, 2007 Cooper conducted personal interviews with some of the artist featured in the book. One such interview occurred with Poly Styrene of the X-Ray Spex, who spoke about her gradual awareness of being involved in the male centered punk rock scene in the


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Figure 1. Patty 2-Tone.

late 1970’s she says, ‘‘I wasn’t aware that I faced any problems being a woman in the beginning but as time went on I realized that I was vulnerable, being surrounded by men all the time.’’ These sentiments can be further fleshed out to speak to the masculinization of punk women in order to gain acceptance by some of their male counterparts. PUNKY INSPIRATION: Individual/Performer – Pauline Black Contribution – Lead singer for The Selecter Influence – Reggae, Ska/2-Tone As ska rhythms found their way into the formation of the punk sound, one of the pioneers of the ska/punk courtship was Afro-British singer Pauline Black, of the band The Selecter (1977–84/1990–2/2010–present). Pauline Black, as with most women of color in environments where there is very little minority presence, was fully aware of her difference, even within a subculture that allowed her status. In 2010, Black conducted a series of interviews with female artists for the BBC during which she briefly mentioned how race affected her presentation on the stage. She performs, for the most part, with a mix of feminine and masculine traits. She dresses in black and white with red accents (strictly pant suits), sporting fedora hats and coloredcoordinated shoes. Punk music is synonymous with a sound that is raw, unpolished, loud and true to the voice of disenfranchised youth. But punk is also inspired by ska, a musical form imported from Jamaica. In the late seventies ska, a derivative of reggae, became the


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springboard for an even newer, faster sound called 2-Tone. 2-Tone is the infusion of ska, punk rock, reggae, and rock steady, which is a slower form of reggae and the successor to ska. 2-Tone is also a forefather to new wave, a musical sub-genre of punk rock, which incorporates electronics, synthesizers, and keyboards, as well as more experimental sounds. Interestingly enough, 2-Tone found an unlikely audience in a group of white youth known as Skinheads. Initially, in the late 1960s, Skinheads were young, white males from working-class neighborhoods who, united by punk music, created a subculture based on the principal of brotherhood and a common working-class style consisting of closely shaven heads, work pants with suspenders, and heavy-duty black boots. Time and other cultural influences would later redefine what it meant to be a skinhead and, by extension, who could be a skinhead: women, people of color, and even hate groups such as White Supremacists. Cultural historian Don Letts writes in Culture Clash: Dread Meets Punk Rock (2008), a book of memoirs and insights on the early UK punk scene: ‘‘There was a radical difference between the fashion statement of skinheads of the sixties and the overtly racist skinhead movement of the late seventies.’’ As white-supremacist skinhead groups flourished in the early to mid 1980s in the United States, media attention was placed on the antics of the fans just as much as the punk bands themselves. The everyday person who attended the shows, bought the clothes, and lived the lifestyle, created a bridge between the bands and the real world. It is also the fans that have a significant amount of influence on how punk is perceived by the media and society in general. For black women, the title of punk rocker was a concept too baffling for many people to comprehend. Often ostracized by blacks as subverting the African aesthetic and criticized by whites for being pseudo punks, black punks, especially females, suffered an incomplete sense of cultural identity. The feeling of identity within a group not only influences decisions, but it helps form some of an individual’s key ideologies, especially during her formative years. Punk’s precepts extolled anarchy and defiance of traditional customs. For black women punkers, this approach could be seen as appealing because for so long they had been given underdog status. However, this approach to life promoted an apathy that for marginalized people of color could pose problems during a time where the concept of civil rights for all people was still new and a bit shaky. Some punks of color began to identify with the political identity of their social group and, whether as an attempt to fit in or due to the process of assimilation, did away with all ties to their black cultural selves. This adopted identity seemed antithetical to what many blacks strive for: respect, a piece of the American dream, and a growing sense of ethnic pride.

(2) Crafted Character: Southie – Skinhead punk rocker (Figure 2) A racist skinhead punk and front woman for a wayward group of Caucasian young men who purport the superiority of the white race, Southie is a devout fan of Hardcore punk, a musical style that produced faster tempos and often had aggressive lyrics. As Southie reflects on her involvement in the movement, she claims she was


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Figure 2. Southie.

merely a pawn, a token used to keep authorities guessing about that particular skinhead faction’s political slant. The character of Southie will be ambiguous, which will make it difficult to determine just how much she is the puppet or puppet master. PUNKY INSPIRATION: Individual – Kendall Hall Contribution – Punk Spectator Influence – Neo-Nazi Skinheads For black punk history, one of the most startling displays of cultural disidentification (which has been documented) occurred around the early- to mid1980s. The Nazi-influenced skinhead movement began to get underway and was particularly interested in a type of punk music classified as Hardcore. Hardcore was faster and grittier than early punk and often provoked aggressive ‘‘dancing’’ and pushing which is now referred to as moshing. This often violent subculture began to grow on the east coast in areas such as New York and Philadelphia, and moved southward towards Washington, D.C. The band Iron Cross has been noted as being one of the original politics-driven skinhead bands in North America. Although the band denies any racist affiliations, Iron Cross’s substantial following of Neo-Nazi skinheads, who violently beat up Jews and gays and promote the Aryan culture while wearing swastika arm bands, gave Iron Cross the unauthorized label of a Nazi skinhead band. One of the most ironic facts about this small side note in American punk history was that the ‘‘leader’’ of one of these self appointed Neo-Nazi Skinhead groups was


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an African American female by the name of Kendall Hall, nicknamed Lefty. She was said to have swastika tattoos and a cohort of angry young white males who followed her every command. Some say that Lefty was considered a joke and blight upon the D.C. punk rock scene. Despite how she may be viewed by others, the fact remains that she existed, and still exists as a representative figure in support of a belief system that condemns her own African ancestry as inferior and seeks to oppress others based on cultural differences. In his essay on black personality, psychologist James M. Jones includes an excerpt from psychologists Abraham Kardiner and Lionel Ovesy on the theories of black self-hatred entitled ‘‘The Mark of Oppression’’ which was first published in 1951. Kardiner and Ovesy write, ‘‘The mark of oppression is low self-esteem tantamount to self-contempt, which leads to idealization of whites [and] frantic attempts to be white. . .’’ (1991, 311). In extreme cases, the reality is that white culture does not accept Blacks as being white, no matter how symbiotically akin Black people’s views are to their white counterparts. This can lead to a form of schizophrenia on the part of the oppressed group: a pronounced hostility against those who reject them even though they still hold firm to many white ideologies that consider blacks inferior. Kendall Hall can be read as the result of years of cultural inequality, and internalized white ideological influence. A heavy-set woman with a shaved head, Lefty defied European standards of beauty, and her acceptance as the leader for an Aryan Nazi group is baffling to say the least. But this contradictory arrangement is part of the black punk dynamic. For black female punks, even more than for white females, disidentification, the ridding of identity or cultural ties due to their limiting factors, comes into play.

(3) Crafted Character: Fey Hellion – Hardcore punk rocker and performer (Figure 3) A former foster kid who aged out of the system, she lives a nomadic existence crashing on acquaintances’ couches or sleeping with newly met ‘‘friends.’’ Fey is awash in a world of drugs, sex, and larceny. Her ray of light is punk music. Her outrageous antics on-stage are matched by her punk bravado and her need to be the center of attention. PUNKY INSPIRATION: Individuals – Poly Styrene, Ari Up, Alice Bag Contribution – Punk Performers Influences – Day-Glo wearing, voice of young punkers in England in the late 1970s (Styrene); Unorthodox stage shows. Self-appointed punky reggae singer (Up); Hardcore Punk/Kitschy Punk (Bag) These three artists were selected as the inspiration for Fey Hellion because they provide a diverse cultural background. They were also chosen because each was a pioneer of punk amidst a landscape of male settlers. In addition, the courage and tenacity of each woman, along with the spectacles and hijinks of their performance personas, adds color and complexity to the crafted characters.


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Figure 3. Fey Hellion.

Marion Elliot, also known as Poly Styrene, was born in Brixton, London in 1958. She was the daughter of a Scots-Irish mother and a Somalian father. Besides being a stand-out pioneer of punk rock music, she was one of the first punk rockers of note to sing about social issues with a feminist edge. Poly Styrene ‘‘mined’’ the male-dominated punk rock battlefield unapologetically, even as punk’s initial political stance was subverted by racism, misogyny, and lewdness. Her songs gave voice to the confusion associated with gender roles, mass consumerism, and the enforced blending of different and unequal, yet co-existent, cultures. Her band, X-Ray Spex, stood out from many other British punk bands, not only for their strong, socially conscious lyrics, but also for their musical and instrumental mastery, a quality, which eluded many early punk ‘‘musicians.’’ In addition, X-Ray Spex successfully incorporated a saxophone, an instrument not usually associated with early punk, into their ensemble. Because punk allows a do-it-yourself approach to music, bands like X-Ray Spex took artistic license, throwing out rules and doing what they wanted to do. The saxophone provided a successful counterpoint to Poly Styrene’s youthful but powerful voice; together, they marked the band’s trademark sound. The band The Slits was fronted by wild child Ari Up. Up was the daughter of a young German mother who was wealthy and hob-knobbed with rock and roll elite in London. From an early age Ari was exposed to the excesses of the rock and roll lifestyle, and at the tender age of 14 she became a punk pioneer, as the lead singer for The Slits, a rebellious, all-female band. Ari, especially, is notorious for her unpredictable antics on and off stage including (allegedly) urinating in front of an


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audience while performing. Ari and the band represented a new type of performance that was built not on talent or mastery in singing or instrument playing, but on having a strong stage presence and persona. Early on Ari became enamored by reggae and Jamaican culture, and during an interview on a lowbudget, televised punk talk show, Ari shared that she and her band mates enjoyed reggae and anything tribal. As if to support their love of tribal culture, Ari and her band mates appeared topless on their first album cover in grass skirts and completely covered in mud. After the breakup of The Slits, Ari moved around to different countries and eventually took up residence in Jamaica, where she began a solo career and became known in the Jamaican dancehall scene as a performer called Madussa. Ari donned flowing ‘‘dreadlocks,’’ often spoke of her love of black cultures and became the mother of three bi-racial sons of African descent. She continued with her solo career until her death from cancer in 2010. Alice Bag is a punk pioneer. Initially from East Los Angeles, Alice Bag was born and raised Alicia Armendariz to Mexican parents. She recently published an autobiography entitled Violence Girl: East LA rage to Hollywood stage (2011), a Chicana punk story, in which she talks about her Mexican roots, violent childhood memories, and how her desire to fit in led her to punk rock. Bag states on the Amazon.com biography for the book that, ‘‘Over the past 30 years, I’ve been in a series of little known but influential bands that championed alternative feminism as well as queer and minority rights.’’ Alice Bag is not only a pioneer in the hardcore LA Punk world, but is still striving to preserve the history of females in punk rock and to acknowledge the bands forgotten by time. ***** Each character presented in Sodom’s Daughters will be presented as they see themselves; whether they live excessively, are haughty, or do abominable things, their stories will be told. Sharing the story of black women in punk using performative methods allows for the creative inclusion and consolidation of hidden, forgotten, and misrepresented facts. A major reason for creating Sodom’s Daughters is to provide exposure and ultimately build awareness about the presence of black females in punk. This is important because very little information is available about this fact despite evidence that black females did and do currently exist as part of this genre. Creating the three characters Patty 2-Tone, Fey Hellion, and Southie, who are composites of principal players in the punk rock movement, serves a dual purpose of telling their unique stories while showing the universality of our human need to belong.

Notes on contributor Gigi McGraw is an actress and has a Masters in Theater from Villanova University. She currently resides in Philadelphia, PA, where she is developing several didactic performances for film and stage.


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References

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Bag, Alice. Artist Webpage: alicebag.com (accessed January 24, 2012). Cooper, Leonie. 2012. ‘‘Punk’s Forgotten Female Heroes.’’ The Guardian. Accessed June 18. www.guardian.co.uk Letts, Don, and David Nobakht. 2008. Culture Clash: Dread Meets Punk Rock. Middlesex, UK: SAF. Jones, James M. 1991. ‘‘The Politics of Personality: Being Black in America.’’ In Black Psychology. 3rd ed. edited by Reginald Jones, 305–318. Berkeley, CA: Cobb & Henry Publishers.


Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory Vol. 22, Nos. 2–3, July–November 2012, 335–341

Preserving Contradiction: The Riot Grrrl Collection at the Fales Library Lisa Darms*

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Fales Library & Special Collections, New York University, NY, USA

It is 1991, and the band Bikini Kill is performing onstage in front of a handmade backdrop that reads ‘‘Abortion on Demand and Without Apology’’ (Figure 1). Drummer Tobi Vail introduces the band, and singer Kathleen Hanna takes the stage in a 1950s bikini top and a skirt she has cut short. ‘‘All girls to the front,’’ she says. ‘‘I’m not kidding. All boys be cool, for once in your lives, go back, back, back.’’ In response, the camera moves steadily backward. Hanna tells the audience to be respectful (‘‘watch the knockers’’), and encourages girls who feel uncomfortable during the performance to come onstage and take the mic. As the band improvises, Hanna asks an audience member to write SLUT on her stomach in magic marker. Then, in a mocking voice she says ‘‘Look at me, I’m a SLUT. I’m a SLUT, I want you all, I want to take you all home. NOT!’’1 Later in the set, when bassist Kathi Wilcox breaks a string, Hanna performs a spoken-word piece. ‘‘Now everyone just shut up because I’m gonna do something,’’ she begins, and is greeted with a chorus of heckling that drowns out a few cheers. She responds: ‘‘You heard me. Have a little bit of respect!’’ A man yells something indecipherable – Hanna smiles ruefully and pauses. ‘‘I’m not trying to be like a teacher ‘cuz you know that’s part of a whole hierarchy,’’ she says in a sing-song voice: ‘‘Adult over child. Man over woman. White over everyone else. Christian over everyone else.’’ She winks at the audience, then says ‘‘What?’’ and holds her mic to someone off camera. She says sarcastically ‘‘He said: Sure, Yeah.’’ The performance that follows is impossible to transcribe, as Hanna shifts her tone between an increasingly vulnerable girl-persona, and a forceful, angry woman who challenges her hecklers. Hanna’s piece, with a repeated refrain of ‘‘I saw her handcuffed, when I was seven,’’ continues despite continuous disruption from male audience members, to which she responds with increasingly frustrated interjections: ‘‘SHUT UP!’’ followed by audience laughter; ‘‘You’re laughing, FUCK You!’’ and – in an unsettlingly deep voice – ‘‘Words are funny, aren’t they?’’ By the end, she is near tears: ‘‘What kind of world is this – won’t let girls trust?’’ The crowd wildly applauds, drowning out any hecklers who might persist.

*Email: lisadee@nyu.edu ISSN 0740–770X print/ISSN 1748–5819 online ! 2012 Women & Performance Project Inc. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2012.720823 http://www.tandfonline.com


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Figure 1. Kathleen Hanna performing in Bikini Kill, 1991. Stills from video documentation, ID 271.0053, Kathleen Hanna Papers, Fales Library, NYU.

Although this video (or, even less so, a transcript of it) cannot fully capture the experience of seeing Bikini Kill – who provoked such strong emotions from both fans and detractors – live, watching the performance described above does convey some of riot grrrl’s complexity and contradictions. Collecting documentation like this – which otherwise might be lost – is what inspired me to create a riot grrrl archive. I wanted to preserve this history in all its multiplicity, in a way that opens up the movement, eschewing strict periodization and categories, while still making it accessible. I had contemplated the need for an archive documenting this feminist movement well before 2009, when I became the senior archivist at the Fales Library & Special Collections at New York University. I was influenced by my experience as a punk in my hometown in the 1980s and the early 1990s punk scene in Olympia, Washington, as well as by my later archival training. Before I worked at Fales, I hadn’t encountered an institution that understood the importance of such an archive and could provide the necessary support for the long-term preservation of, and access to, the materials. Ultimately, it was the model of the Fales Downtown Collection that convinced me a Riot Grrrl Collection was possible. Fales Director Marvin J. Taylor started the Downtown Collection in 1993 to document the New York arts scene that evolved in SoHo, the East Village, and the


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Lower East Side during the 1970s and continued through the early 1990s. This Collection consists of the personal papers and archives of artists, performers, writers, and organizations working in the arts – from David Wojnarowicz’s personal papers and collection of talismanic objects, to the archives of collectives like A.I.R. Gallery and Group Material, to the records of the Judson Memorial Church, among many other collections.2 When Taylor started the collection (and to a certain degree, even now), it was unique in the context of special collections, and challenged some of the fundamental principles of archival practice. Most of the donors were (and are) still living, and many had a complex and sometimes antipathetic relationship to institutional culture. The content of their collections is often radical and genre-defying. The materials, including ephemera such as flyers; artworks and objects; photo and audiovisual documentation of performances, etc., test traditional ideas about what a historical ‘‘document’’ is, or could be. The Downtown Collection foregrounds the difficulty of documenting a scene that was not always well recorded. All of these concerns are similar to the ones that complicate the ongoing creation and maintenance of the Riot Grrrl Collection. The Riot Grrrl Collection’s primary mandate is to collect the personal papers of musicians, writers, artists, and activists involved in the movement’s early years (1989–96). The papers demonstrate the donors’ creative process, as well as the development of the movement overall. Although the press and blogosphere have often misrepresented it as a ‘‘zine collection,’’ the Riot Grrrl Collection is more than that: it is largely primary-source materials, and is built on the archival and manuscript tradition. In addition to zines (and zine masters)3, Fales collects riot grrrl-related correspondence, artwork, journals and notebooks, audio and video recordings, photographs, clippings, and flyers, as well as source materials relating to the creation of these works and events (Figure 2). To ensure the long-term preservation of the materials, the collection is only available to researchers in the Fales Reading Room. Researchers do not need an institutional affiliation, and they range from scholars doing research on subjects like Utopian writers and feminist manifestos, to artists looking for visual inspiration and designers interested in how zines were constructed. Although the process of accessing the materials may seem daunting to some researchers, I strongly believe in the model of archival practice that seeks to balance access and preservation. Or, to put it another way: the archive’s rules protect the materials so they will be around to be accessed in the future. Like any archive, the Riot Grrrl Collection is an incomplete record. While many people have donated their archives and more have promised to do so, some potential donors may prefer to start community-driven projects similar to the Lesbian Herstory Archive4, or to keep their collections close to home. The things people saved (and whether they saved anything at all) were determined by factors as pragmatic as how often they moved, to more esoteric qualities like personal ‘‘archival sensibility.’’ Some activities automatically create an archive of sorts, while others leave few traces. Zine writing, for example, created documents that have become important records of what people thought, how they represented themselves, and


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Figure 2. ‘‘Things I Made’’ – folder from Kathleen Hanna Papers, before the Collection was processed at Fales Library. Courtesy of Kathleen Hanna.

how their ideas circulated. But because of the relative preponderance of zines in this and other collections, their importance as a mode of riot grrrl activism seems overstated. Conversely, there is almost no documentation of riot grrrl meetings – an important part of the movement – in the Fales collection, because as a safe space for women to discuss difficult subjects, meeting minutes or audio or video recordings were less likely to have been made or preserved. This absence results in a skewed picture of not just the content, but also the modes of riot grrrl activities. Although the Downtown Collection is a model for the Riot Grrrl Collection, there are some key differences. Downtown was clearly a ‘‘scene’’ and not a ‘‘movement;’’ it was a conglomeration of aligned or even antagonistic activities that were united usually by geography, sometimes by aesthetics, and often by a kinship of outsiderism. Riot grrrl – although preceded by, and contiguous with, a number of other scenes of outspoken punk, queer, and feminist musicians and activists (whose stories also need to be documented) – was from its inception a self-conscious musical, feminist, political movement. And while Downtown was both an attitude and a set of practices that spread beyond New York, it was primarily rooted in Lower Manhattan. Riot grrrl, though initially traceable to specific places like Olympia and Washington D.C., was not bound by geography. However, there are affinities between the two collections that form interesting genealogies and anti-genealogies. Riot grrrls were reacting to (and sometimes against) American punk, whose origins are often traced to


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Downtown New York. But their work was sometimes also a love letter to specific Downtown forbears. Feminist writer Kathy Acker was an important influence on Kathleen Hanna. The direct-action group ACT UP and other AIDS activists provided models for riot grrrls, and David Wojnarowicz was an inspiration as an activist, writer, and artist. Sometimes, Downtown artists and riot grrrls had predecessors in common, as in Johanna Fateman and Sylve`re Lotringer’s shared preoccupation with Antonin Artaud. One of my favorite examples of the multidirectional web of influence is a 1995 letter from Fateman to Hanna: I have been doing some work for one of my teachers who is a seventies feminist art lady. She was asking me about riot grrrl and stuff and then she gave me a copy of a letter that one woman in the feminist art scene gave another concerning a remark she made about the Guerrilla Girls (publicly). Of course there are a lot of differences between RG and Guerrilla Girls but my teacher’s point was to share ‘‘living history’’ about how . . . the media fuels women’s misconceptions about each other.5

A Xeroxed letter in which all names have been redacted accompanies Fateman’s letter: Dear ______. I was very disturbed by your dismissive and misinformed remark about the Guerrilla Girls (that they hide behind masks because they are women who have ‘‘made it’’). . . . The truth is that the Girls are your usual struggling women artists . . . . They are famous and celebrated when they don their masks, yes, but as private individuals, they reap none of the benefits of their ‘‘success’’. Anonymous was a gorilla! [. . .] And now that we’re entering the Newt years, the backlash is going to be horrific, so we’d better support the efforts of those who will be brave enough to fight. I’m expecting a whole new style of 90s feminist activism to emerge, and it will probably bare [sic] very little resemblance to the Guerrilla Girls . . . . It’s hard for all of us to see the attention move over to the next generation, to feel suddenly invisible. But it’s as inevitable as the change of seasons, the waxing and waning of the moon, to use a feminist metaphor.6

The letter – and its enclosure within Fateman’s original correspondence – illustrates the repetitions that characterize activism, where each generation must relearn the lessons of the past, and which the existence of an archive of activism might be able to interrupt. The description of the video that opened this essay captures something that I believe is missing from the movement’s historicizations: The danger riot grrrl performers faced; the frequent hostility of the audience at their shows; the constant movement between positions of power and vulnerability. Similar aspects of the Downtown scene have also been forgotten, as punk is remembered as a long-lost period of authenticity. The glamour of its legacy overrides the realities of poverty, mental illness, sexual violence, addiction, and internal feuds. All archives are records of failures as well as successes. And both the Riot Grrrl and Downtown Collections are made up of live performances (with their inevitable false starts, technical difficulties, or off nights), unfinished writings, in-process drafts of lyrics, diary entries, letters written in passion or anger, and self-published zines (which, in their immediacy, can contain half-formed ideas imperfectly expressed). These documents


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are unedited, and are powerful, complex, and contradictory – reading them reveals the process of a movement forming in real time.

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***** Although I have been using genealogical terms (‘‘predecessors;’’ ‘‘generations’’), it is not to endorse ‘‘generational’’ periodizations of feminism and women’s history. A focus on waves and generations – on feminisms whose popularity ‘‘waxes and wanes’’ – reduces movements like riot grrrl to a fad rather than an ongoing strain of women’s activism that continues to resurface as part of a long history. Interest in riot grrrl was at an apex when I started the Collection, and journalists were keenly focused on the question of the movement’s resurgence at this particular moment. But as an archivist, I am not as interested in the collection’s current reception as I am committed to its current and future accessibility and preservation. This ‘‘conservative’’ impulse might seem at odds with those theoretical appropriations of the archive that prize the transitional and the ephemeral as antidotes to exclusionary and reductive histories. But the ‘‘traditional’’ archive is not a fixed entity, even if we seek to fix its contents; its contradictory texts will continue to exist into the future, always ready to counter the solidification process that accompanies our narrating of the past.

Notes on contributor Lisa Darms is Senior Archivist at the Fales Library & Special Collections at New York University, and is founder of the Fales Riot Grrrl Collection. She grew up in British Columbia, Canada, and graduated from the Evergreen State College in 1993. Lisa has an MFA in Photography from the University of Washington, and worked as a photography printer and teacher before receiving her Masters in History and Archival Management from NYU. She was a member of the art collective Thin Ice throughout the 2000s, and was an organizer of the first Ladyfest Festival, held in Olympia, Washington in 2000. Her book of riot grrrl ephemera selected from the Fales Collection will be published by the Feminist Press in Spring 2013.

Notes 1. Undated Video (ID 271.0053), Kathleen Hanna Papers, Fales Library, NYU. 2. Finding aids for these collections can be viewed at http://www.nyu.edu/library/bobst/ research/fales/findingaidsrg.html. 3. A zine master is the original (and unique) copy, often with pasted-on elements, from which zines were photocopies. 4. The Lesbian Herstory Archives, housed in Brooklyn, N.Y., is the world’s largest collection of materials by and about lesbians and their communities. It is a grassroots effort run by volunteers, and many of its core principles center around keeping the archives open and independent outside an academic context, e.g., ‘‘All Lesbian women must have access to the Archives; no academic, political, or sexual credentials will be required for use of the collection; race and class must be no barrier for use or inclusion,’’ and ‘‘The Archives shall be housed within the community, not on an academic campus that is by definition closed to many women.’’ See http:// www.lesbianherstoryarchives.org/.


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5. Letter from Johanna Fateman to Kathleen Hanna, ca. 1995. The Johanna Fateman Riot Grrrl Collection, Fales Library, NYU. 6. Anonymous letter, enclosed with letter from Johanna Fateman to Kathleen Hanna, ca. 1995. The Johanna Fateman Riot Grrrl Collection, Fales Library, NYU.

Reference

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The Riot Grrrl Collection, The Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University.


Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory Vol. 22, Nos. 2–3, July–November 2012, 343

Lydia Brawner and Elizabeth Stinson

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Department of Performance Studies, New York University, NY, USA

Soundtracks: a visual reading guide for listening, an auditory engagement, and the liner notes on this issue’s imagined inner sleeve. Here, a selected group of writers, artists, and thinkers sonically approach the concepts of feminism and punk anteriority. Mariam Bastani – We are destroyers of the status quo Iraya Robles – REMOTELY FEMALE Ceci Moss – I HATE HISTORY Mimi Thi Nguyen – Making Waves: Other Punk Feminisms Kate Wadkins – making sure the FREAKY LADIES get represented

Figure 1. Elizabeth Stinson, Walking on State Lines, collage, 2010.

*Email: lmb294@nyu.edu; stinson@nyu.edu ISSN 0740–770X print/ISSN 1748–5819 online ! 2012 Women & Performance Project Inc. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2012.720897 http://www.tandfonline.com


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we are destroyers of the status quo

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Mariam Bastani*

*Email: mariam@maximumrocknroll.com ISSN 0740–770X print/ISSN 1748–5819 online ! 2012 Women & Performance Project Inc. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2012.720892 http://www.tandfonline.com


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REMOTELY FEMALE Iraya Robles*

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San Francisco, California, USA

Side 1: A new chronology of lady proto-ness: Some foremothers (1) BETTY DAVIS, ‘‘F.U.N.K.’’ Nasty Gal (Island 1975/Light in the Attic 2009) Betty Davis was/is supremely original. This young Soul Sister had a voice like no other. She presented ‘‘like a Black Panther Woman’’ and wrote & produced innovative, risk taking, wild & Freaky Funk at an incredibly intense rate, then left the music industry wholesale by the late 70s. Although recognized by her peers, she was hard to categorize, harder still to market, and Black Radio would barely touch her. (Being a former model still didn’t help!) Her controversial live performances were notorious and even boycotted for explicit themes, lyrical role reversal, and her raucous audience interactions. Post-punk (with its distilled funk/jazz rhythms, relabled as ‘‘Art’’) owes a huge debt to her serious brand of hard funknroll & attitude. Check out ‘‘Anti-love song’’ (1973) for further evidence. Foremother and innovator of many things: HardFunkSoulGlamJazzRockAfropunkHipHopPostpunk & more. Visionary. (2) YMA SUMAC, ‘‘Taita Inty (Virgin of the Sun God),’’ Voice of the Xtabay (Capitol 1950) Extremely beautiful opening piece from this Peruvian Diva’s U.S. debut. Commanding a four (or possibly higher) octave range, Ms. Sumac was a soprano courted by the Met, but stuck with her solo career, thank Goddess. Emanating Indigenous-influenced soundscapes, Yma sang in Quechua & Spanish, interspersing birdcalls and phrases, going from extreme highs to low baritone guttural growls and chants. With longtime collaborator and spouse, composer Moses Vivanco, they made a pair, his brilliant high-concept arrangements and folkloric adaptations matching her grandiose Operatic Hybridity vibe. With her ritualistic glamour and fabulous costumes, she played up Incan Royalty rumors. Packaged by the industry as ‘‘Exotica’’ to 1950s audiences, Yma was so much more. Majorly set the stage for female artists to come, like Astrid Hadad, Diamanda Galas, and Nina Hagen, and a big influence on the B-52s and others. Blew genres apart and repped Pachamama.

*Email: irayarobles@yahoo.com ISSN 0740–770X print/ISSN 1748–5819 online ! 2012 Women & Performance Project Inc. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2012.720893 http://www.tandfonline.com


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(3) PHYLLIS DILLON, ‘‘One Life to Live,’’ (Treasure Isle 1971) The Queen of Rocksteady! Just a classic track full of sweet longing and lyrical wordplay about a young woman’s self-determination, soap opera titles, independence and – what else – falling in love! Smooth & on-point phrasing in this one. This cut is a staple, and no one delivered like Ms. Dillon. Confident yet vulnerable. Phyllis started off as a Ska artist and held her own amongst her male peers. Rocksteady & reggae attitude and song composition was a major influence on early punk . . . One of the great female artists of the genre!! (4) PAULINE OLIVEROS, ‘‘Mnemonics III,’’ Four Electronic Pieces 1959–1966 (Sub Rosa 2008) Composed in 1965 at the San Francisco Tape Music Center, using two Hewlett Packard oscillators, a patch bay, a line amplifier, and two tape recorders. Composer & teacher of Deep Listening. In this work she creates Aura stirring & captivating tonalities that breach, hum, and soothe. Tape scratching. Membrane theory begins here. Incredible live. Predates Eno, Throbbing Gristle, noise, industrial, et al. Just Wonderful. Zeena Parkins, Bjork, Laurie Anderson, and many more etc. stem from this. Heavy Electronix Icon. Looking forward to her new album, released on her 80th birthday!! (5) DARA PUSPITA, ‘‘Kerja Kami (Our Work),’’ 1966–1968 (Sublime Frequencies 2010) This all-female Indonesian band, played & wrote original stunning psych garage shimmers that get tough when necessary. This was reissued by bearded white men and then immediately went out of print . . . (I am gonna try to see it as reparations of some kind, only we should all be getting records for free. Yes, I am serious.) I truly needed to hear this when I was younger and obsessed with the ‘60s. Asian ladies’ freakbeat, paving the way!! (6) ALICE COLTRANE, ‘‘Blue Nile,’’ Ptah, The El Daoud (Impulse! 1970) Alice on Harp & Piano, with others. Octave Healing. Rhythms & Drones. Vibrational Knowledge. Introspective and Dissonant. Trance inducing (of course). Ancient, yet Still New. Complex. Astral. Challenged the jazz males with it all and wrote her own rules. The earth is in the key of B and so is she . . . SACRED TEXTS MUST BE WRITTEN in ALICE-FORM . . . Alice FOREVA!!! (7) YOKO ONO, ‘‘Don’t Worry Kyoko, Mummy’s Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow,’’ Fly (1971) Yoko? I can only agree: YES. To GRAPEFRUIT. WISH PIECE & CUT PIECE. Don’t Worry. FLUXUS & BOTTOMS. Together. She was Shinto/Bhudda/Jesus/then? Channelling, reaching, chanting, ghostly weighty . . . Ameratsu witchy beauty. YES to Kyoko, and all of this recorded moment. PS: pinpoints what’s to come in experimental, punk & noise. SEE: UT, Butthole Surfers, MARS, Sonic Youth, etc.


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(8) THE CAKE, ‘‘Annabelle Clarke,’’ A Slice of the Cake (Decca 1968) GREAT psych/abstract number by this unique N.Y.C. baroque girl group. The teen vocal trio also broke new ground in that they wrote a lot of their own material, and were seen as equals among their rocker boy peers (Jimi, The Animals, Cream, etc.), had a high mod androgynous look, and a ‘‘switched on’’ defiant attitude! They were a multiracial band too – Jeanette was Black and Greek, Barbara was a Puerto Rican Mestiza, and Eleanor was of Armenian Jewish descent. Called ‘‘the missing link between the Ronettes and the Runaways,’’ they were totally ahead of their time. ‘‘P.T. 280’’ is another catchy, cryptic, & collage-y art nouveau fave from them about meeting the WHO in LA, among other things. Trivia: The late J Dilla sampled ‘‘Annabelle Clarke.’’ These girls in the garage have many stories . . . (9) AMON DUUL II, ‘‘Archangel Thunderbird,’’ Yeti (1971) Renate Knaup’s low vocals soar over and yes – thunderous – riffs and propulsive drumming. Amon Duuul II was a West German radical leftist hippy commune band. (The tradition lived on with CRASS etc., a few years later.) One of the founding ‘‘Krautrock’’ groups, and one of the few to have any female members at all. Renate wrote this piece and it is one of the band’s most popular tracks ever, for good reason. She reminds one of a Viking Hippie Glamazon meets the ‘‘Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant,’’ rocking cold and Doomy as her male counterparts. Contemplate, listen, and willingly submit to the HEAVINESS!!

Side 2: Underground Sisterhoods, Obscure Hitmakers, & Rarer 45s (10) THE SELECTER, ‘‘On My Radio’’ (1979/1980) Ska Icon Pauline Black tears it up on this 2-Tone classic about a girl and a boy and the true object of their shared affections: the search for new sounds & ways. One of the few Black frontwomen on the scene, undeniably in command, and chic in her suits. The first album is classic front to back, and everything by them is necessary! Rude Girl Style & Flow in a Massive Way. Ladies Get yr Punky Reggae Party On. Singer, Actress, and Author, Pauline’s just-published-in-the-States Black by design: A 2-Tone memoir is on my list of must-reads. Long Live the The Queen of Ska!! (11) ANDROIDS OF MU, ‘‘Bored Housewives,’’ Blood Robots (Fuck Off Records 1980) Awesome anti-domestic track by these Dystopian/utopian anarcha/postpunk feminists. I love the concept of Blood Robots: prophetic, nicely paranoid/realistic. Wouldn’t let CRASS drum for them contingent on a record deal!!! Bullshit detector indeed. Lesbian iconoclastic Sci-Fi Seperatist choir meets an agit-prop take no prisoners stance. One of the Androids also put out the Making Waves feminist comp of 12 all-female punk bands in 1981.


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(12) PEARL HARBOR, ‘‘Get Outta Here,’’ Pearls Galore! (Island Records 1984) Tough little Punkabilly tune from the illustrious Ms. Harbor! Pearl was a Filipina Mestiza and one of a few API punk/wavers in S.F., and known for her distinctive hiccupy voice, awesome stage presence, and dancing theatrics. Previously of Leila & the Snakes, she had some ok new-wave hits with The Explosions. Went solo in ‘81, and moved to the UK, then musically really gelled! Married some guy from the Clash, and sang ‘‘Fujiyama Mama’’ with them to massive concerts of adoring Japanese punks, billies, & rockers which I think is a really interesting commentary on Philippine/Japanese post-WWII pop & culture relations. Whoa. Actress and Hairdresser too. Messed with Dragon Lady Paradigms. ‘‘Here Comes Trouble’’!!! Also listen to: ‘‘Don’t Follow Me, I’m Lost Too.’’ (13) THE VARVE, ‘‘Erotic Fridgidaire,’’ Bamboo Curtain/Erotic Fridgidaire/The Plan EP (Risky Records 1982) Very catchy track on the wavey/post side of things. Sample lyrics: ‘‘One day he’s up, the next day he’s down.’’ (!!!) Self-described ‘‘Art-Punk-Rockabilly styled,’’ the Varve evolved from another all-female outfit, The Guys. After relocating from Colorado to SF in early ‘81, they played to fashionable, dancey, Liquid Sky-esque rabid crowds at ‘‘Le Disque’’ on Haight St! They appear on several singles & 12 inches, the Live at Le Disque LP comp, and a cassette-only release. Lead singer Jo Anne Gogue totally appears to be a postpunk of color. Funk/Jazz/Rockabilly/Ska breaks with sax. Underrated! (14) CASTRATION SQUAD, ‘‘The X Girlfriend,’’ (1981) Deathrock underground hit, taped bootlegs only, later ened up on vinyl-only bootleg series KILLED BY DEATH, Vol. 13. I Taped mine off the MRR Radio in spring ‘87, this is personal favorite for me. I also had taped The Bags’ 7-inch Survive and listened to it constantly. Alice BAG blew my 16 y/old mind and I pined for ’77– 81. Major influence. Members included Mary Bathing (Dinah Cancer from 45 Grave), Shannon, Elisa Bello (Go-Go’s), Tracy from Redd Kross, and Phranc. REPAIR MEN!!! (15) VS, ‘‘Magnetic Heart,’’ S/T EP (Monkey Records 1980) Excellent single from ‘‘SF’s first and only all-female ‘bondage rock’ band,’’ although they actually ended up adding two guys before cutting this recording. Hypnotic vocals by Heidi Familiar & Olga DeVolga, wailing great lyrics about ‘‘falling metal’’ and more over eerily condensed, tough, angular riffs. Bassist, main songwriter & vocalist Olga was later in The Lewd, who also have a kickass punk/hc version of this song. ‘‘Leather Complex’’ on side B is another bizarrely deviant gem. X-Capees, Streetart & Hardcore California featured intriguing early photos & flyers of VS. Which say it all . . . uniformed for the Miracle Mile, a chick version of CRIME (at least visually!). (16) FRIGHTWIG, ‘‘The Wanque off Song,’’ Cat Farm Faboo (Subterranean 1984) San Francisco’s legendary ladies of NoisePunkHC Psych Experimental etc. Sometimes labeled ‘‘the female answer to Flipper’’ – and just who asked that


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question??? Maybe the hardcore dudes they asked to strip and dance at every show!! (Those dudes listened too.) Wild! These deeply influential mamas inspired many with their sludgey & thumping wailing sound, awesome lyrics, and unapologetically feminist dirges. The name comes from the ‘50s term for a crazy messy inappropriate lipstick smeared crooked-seamed stocking kinda womanhood. YEAH!!! (17) RIP RIG & PANIC, ‘‘You’re My Kind of Climate’’ (1982) Incredible cut featuring superb Afro-Dutch vocalist Nenah Cherry & UK’s the Pop Group. Gorgeous and pulsating, it is Jazz funk dub punk at its finest. Veers from super tight to a wildy atmospheric free form futura groove . . . still no one comes close! Named for a Roland Kirk joint and Neneh’s dad was some trumpeter named Don. All of their output is CRUCIAL. Instrumentals like ‘‘The ultimate fun’’ are a joy. Pure & unstopplable DOPENESS!!! Neneh later charted with ‘‘Buffalo Stance’’ in 1988. (18) SNATCH, ‘‘I.R.T./Stanley’’ (1977) Fuckin’ great single from this NYC duo. Tough, minimal, and full of attitude, ‘‘I.R.T.’’ describes dealing with flashers & pervs on the train. I picture them scaring boys with Debby Harry in her Stilletos days n Tish n Snookie of Manic Panic fame. ‘‘Stanley’’ feels like a John Waters skit and to me is a preview of art/craziness like BONGWATER or Teddy & the Frat Girls. (19) BODYSNATCHERS, ‘‘Let’s do Rocksteady/Ruder Than You’’ (2-Tone/ Chrysalis Records 1980) The 7-piece Bodysnatchers were fierce! A rarity as the only all-female 2-Tone act at the time, they played, wrote, and sang all their material. TOUGH!! Appearing in the 1981 film documentary Dance Craze, they were a huge inspiration to girls everywhere into The Ska. The band later morphed into female new wave group The Belle Stars who charted with ‘‘Sign of the times,’’ a song about a long-over relationship, and independent ladies! Lead singer Rhoda Dakar went on to work with the explosive Special AKA and released a solo album. Later in 1984, former Bsnatchers put together another excellent all-female ska sensation, The Deltones. ‘‘RUDE GIRLS COOL AS ICE!’’ (20) THE PHOTOS (with Wendy Wu), ‘‘Irene’’ (Epic 1979) Waver Powerpop Mod perfection (mostly) sans keyboards. Super Dreamy song about a narcisstic femme fatale . . . from Evesham, England. The ‘‘UK’s answer to Blondie.’’ Wendy Wu was an awesome front person. Former ‘77 band Satan’s Rats back her up. I am gonna believe Hong Kong-born Wendy Wu is Hapa/Mixed Heritage until someone tells me otherwise!!! Haven’t found anything confirming her background yet but I am ready . . . (21) LEGAL WEAPON, ‘‘Daddy’s Gone Mad,’’ Death of Innocence (Arsenal Records 1982) Fierce vocalist Kat Arthur wipes the floor on this rager around the themes of dysfunctional family, cycles of addiction & domestic violence. Punk as Fuck, Kat’s


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lyrics were world weary, melancholic & moving. They had a range. Brought a muchneeded dose of snarly female deathrock meets bluesy rocknroll attitude into maledominated Los Angeles HC, and of course heavy eyeliner, black lace dresses, and leather gloves to match the intensity. Later went hard rock. Earlier lineups includeded Patricia Morrison (Pat Bag!) and members of The Adolescents (on this version). This track was first on 1981’s Hell comes to your house comp. Instant SoCal punk classic. Shreds!!


Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory Vol. 22, Nos. 2–3, July–November 2012, 353

I HATE HISTORY

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Ceci Moss*

*Email: cecimoss@gmail.com ISSN 0740–770X print/ISSN 1748–5819 online ! 2012 Women & Performance Project Inc. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2012.720894 http://www.tandfonline.com


Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory Vol. 22, Nos. 2–3, July–November 2012, 355–359

Making Waves1: Other Punk Feminisms

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Mimi Thi Nguyen*

In the 1990s, riot grrrl spawned fiercely feminist bands such as Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy, and Huggy Bear – ‘‘Her Jazz’’ is in my top ten forever – but feminisms (and proto-feminisms) were not then new to punk. What follows is a briefly annotated and painfully incomplete soundtrack of personal favorites and also representative bands from these other punk feminisms before or contemporaneous with but perhaps outside of the riot grrrl movement (1998 is an arbitrary date to close out this list), which might help us consider alternate genealogies of punk feminisms through anti-imperialism, economic justice, and queer anti-assimilationist politics.

The Pleasure Seekers, ‘‘What A Way To Die’’ (1965) An anomalous all-girl garage band fronted by a very young Suzi Quatro and her sister. The Detroit-based Pleasure Seekers growled their way through anthems like this one to teenaged drinking. I include it on this list because this song rages.

X-Ray Spex, ‘‘Oh, Bondage Up Yours!’’ (1977) X-Ray Spex was formed and fronted by the wonderful Day-Glo-clad Poly Styrene (born Marion Elliot-Said), whose resonant vocals on the anti-consumerist ‘‘Oh, bondage!’’ are a lesson in rebellion that reverberates decades later.

The Bags, ‘‘We Will Bury You’’ (1978) Formed in 1977, the legendary Bags were a first-generation Hollywood punk band formed by the fierce Alicia Armendariz and Pat Morrison, who took on the stage names Alice Bag and Pat Bag. (The band infamously began performing with paper bags over their heads). In 2011, Alice published a must-read memoir called Violence Girl: From East LA rage to Hollywood stage, a Chicana punk story.

*Email: mimin@illinois.edu ISSN 0740–770X print/ISSN 1748–5819 online ! 2012 Women & Performance Project Inc. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2012.720895 http://www.tandfonline.com


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LiLiPUT, ‘‘Hedi’s Head’’ (1978) Formed in 1978, and formerly known as Kleenex before a lawsuit threatened, this Swiss all-lady punk band produced cacophonous art punk noise with jangling guitars and deadpan delivery (in English and German). Kill Rock Stars released a 24-track CD/DVD of Kleenex/LiLiPUT recordings in 2010.

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The Slits, ‘‘Typical Girls’’ (1979) Oft-cited as a feminist forerunner, The Slits’ ‘‘Typical Girls’’ is a discordant – at times poppy, at times trippy – list of the ways ‘‘typical girls’’ are required to be, and to behave. The song’s title also lends itself to a long-running listserv about women in punk.

The Raincoats, ‘‘Fairytale in the Supermarket’’ (1979) The incredibly influential Raincoats formed as an all-woman punk band in 1978, and the anti-normative ‘‘Fairytale in the Supermarket’’ was their first single. I recently saw The Raincoats perform (with Grass Widow), and it was my favorite show of 2011.

Bush Tetras, ‘‘Too Many Creeps’’ (1980) A New York art punk, no-wave band from the early 1980s, Bush Tetras’ lead guitarist Pat Place and singer Cynthia Sley created hypnotically dissonant tracks including ‘‘Too Many Creeps,’’ a feminist-tinged agoraphobic tune.

The Ex, ‘‘Meanwhile’’ (1980) This Dutch band is closest to my dirty punk heart, and their first album Disturbing Domestic Peace is forever my jam. The Ex would go on to address all manner of radical politics (including the 1930s Spanish anarchist movement, the uses of ‘‘human rights’’ as justification for liberal war, etc.) and experimental sounds, but the short but devastating ‘‘Meanwhile’’ – about the troubling assumption of safety within heterosexual coupling – grounded this anarcho-punk band in the everyday violations of trust.

Poison Girls, ‘‘Persons Unknown’’ (1980) Formed in 1976, singer and guitarist Vi Subversa was a mother of two (self-described as ‘‘a middle-aged, militant feminist, peacenik, anti fascist, anti capitalist punk’’) whose raspy, raucous songs for this anarchist punk band explored sexual and gender politics alongside political corruption and predatory capitalism. ‘‘Persons Unknown’’ is a strident call to arms by a punk feminist prophet.


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Au Pairs, ‘‘Armagh’’ (1981)

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A British punk/post-punk band formed in 1979, the musically strident and lyrically brilliant Au Pairs released this blistering single in response to allegations of rape and torture of Irish women political prisoners in Armagh, Northern Ireland, skewering the claim that ‘‘we don’t torture’’ propagated by ‘‘civilized nations.’’

The Stains, ‘‘Waste of Time’’ (1981) Not a ‘‘real’’ band, but Corinne Burns’ The Stains from the underappreciated film Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (dir. Lou Adler) is nonetheless an amazing proto-feminist entry. In black hose and a sheer red blouse, her eyes outlined in red zig-zags, Diane Lane’s Corinne spits out teenaged truths about ‘‘adult’’ femininity to a stone-faced audience at her first show after their performance of the anthem ‘‘Waste of Time,’’ against the normative time of waged labor and heterosexuality.

CRASS, ‘‘Where Next Columbus?’’ (1981) The Penis Envy LP is the best album from this perhaps most notorious British anarchist punk band, hands down. Eve Libertine and Joy de Vivre rip their way through the institution of marriage, the wedding-industrial complex, ‘‘appropriate’’ femininity, the hidden economic exchanges that underline the romantic mythology of true love, and, in the incredible ‘‘Where Next Columbus?,’’ the masculinist cult of personality in vanguard movements.

Chalk Circle, ‘‘Reflection’’ (1982) Formed in 1980 in the heart of the Washington D.C. punk scene, this all-woman quartet (featuring the archivist and artist Sharon Cheslow) created angular, minimal sounds and existential questions. In 2011, a 12-song collection of early studio material and live recordings was released.

Conflict (U.S.), ‘‘It’s Easy’’ (1983) Hailing from Arizona, the hardcore band Conflict featured two fierce Asian American women, Karen Nurse (Karen Maeda) and Mariko, on vocals (Mariko also played bass). The album art for their LP Last Hour featured ink drawings of famous and familiar images from the last century’s wars in Asia.

Hagar the Womb, ‘‘Dressed to Kill’’ (1984) Featuring an original line-up of all women, Hagar the Womb formed in 1980 London in challenge to the masculinist anarchist scene. Hagar the Womb featured clever vocals and pointed lyrics in songs such as ‘‘Dressed to Kill,’’ a poppy critique of compulsory –and competitive – feminine gender presentation.


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Lost Cherrees, ‘‘Why Does It Have To Be A Dream’’ (1984)

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The Lost Cherrees was a female-fronted anarcho-punk band from Surrey, England, formed in 1979/80. This track from their brilliant album All Part of Growing Up (featuring also songs about rape and feminist refusal to conform to a man’s measure) reflects a feminist politics against war and nuclear escalation so popular in Britain at the time (see the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp).

Chumbawamba, ‘‘Beginning To Take It Back’’ (1986) Long-running British anarchist band Chumbawamba’s first album, Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records, brought to bear a critique of charity mega-concerts that elided the geopolitical causes of strife and poverty. ‘‘Beginning To Take It Back’’ addresses women’s participation in the Nicaraguan revolution and the United States’ covert support for the anti-socialist Contras in the 1980s.

Yeastie Girlz, ‘‘Orgasm Addict’’ (1988) From the Ovary Action EP, this Bay Area feminist punk a cappella trio covered the Buzzcocks’ classic alongside other sing-song pieces about safer sex and reproductive justice. Yeastie Girlz’ Jane Guskin was also a Maximumrocknroll contributor, whose monthly columns about the United States’ antidemocratic activities throughout the 1980s inspired my own political and intellectual interests in US empire.

The Gits, ‘‘Second Skin’’ (1991) Based out of Seattle in the early 1990s, the Gits featured the raw, sensual growl of singer Mia Zapata, and the incredibly fierce ‘‘Second Skin’’ presents a tough girl’s strength in admitting vulnerability. Zapata’s rape and murder in 1993 prompted a radical turn in punk feminisms, inspiring women’s self-defense collectives (including Home Alive in Seattle, and Girl Army in Oakland) and compilations (most notably the 1995 release of the double album Free to Fight! featuring all-women bands as well as testimonies and self-defense instructions).

DIRT (Dirt Is Reality Today), ‘‘Plastic Bullets’’ (1994) Formed in 1980, DIRT is another long-running British anarcho-punk band featuring alternating masculine-feminine vocals. From the four-song EP Scent of the Kill, ‘‘Plastic Bullets’’ (a cover of anarcho-punk band Belfast’s 1987 release) scathingly tackles the British empire’s repression of independence movements in Northern Ireland, and specifically the supposedly more ‘‘civilized’’ use of plastic bullets by police forces on protesters.


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God Is My Co-Pilot, ‘‘QDA (Anthem)’’ (1995)

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From in New York City in 1991, God Is My Co-Pilot is a queercore noise band whose ‘‘QDA (Anthem)’’ is a raucous, noisy, and totally danceable paean to antiassimilationist, radical queer politics – and still completely relevant.

Team Dresch, ‘‘#1 Chance Pirate TV’’ (1995) Formed in 1993, Team Dresch named their first album Personal Best after the 1982 lesbionic film featuring women track and field athletes. Co-released on hugely important labels Chainsaw Records (run by bassist Donna Dresch) and Candy Ass Records (run by singer/guitarist Jody Bleyle) in 1995, this astounding album is foundational to the 1990s queercore scene.

Sta-Prest, ‘‘Form-fitting’’ (1998) This multisubcultural, multiracial queer punk band from ‘90s San Francisco featured two of my favorite people, Aloofah (a.k.a. Iraya Robles) and D.M. Feelings (a.k.a. Gary Fembot). Experimental, noisily melodic, and otherwise lyrical geniuses, Sta-Prest released a handful of witty singles including ‘‘Form-fitting’’/‘‘Diffy Peeps’’ (both songs skewering cultural and subcultural norms of comfort and content) for the Kill Rock Stars 7’’ Mail Order Freaks Club. There are so, so many more bands that I could have included. Here are just some, both old and new (with suggestions from Jennifer Allen, LB Johnson, Donna Poole, Marike Seem, Jill Reiter, Iraya Robles, Sarah Roberts, Miriam Wilding, Ken Wissoker, Jessica Wurster, and Francois Villeneuve): A.P.P.L.E., Androids of Mu, A.S.F., Avengers, Bambix, Bitchfight, Blatz, Bound and Gagged, The Brat, Castration Squad, Crazy Band, Delta 5, DISBAND, Dog-Faced Hermans, Dolly Mixture, Emily’s Sassy Lime, Erase Errata, The Ex, Finally Punk, Frightwig, G.A.S.H., Grass Widow, Household, Hue & Cry, In School, Kamala and the Karnivores, KUKL, Legal Weapon, Life But How to Live It?, Mary Monday, Mika Miko, Mo-Dettes, Mudwimmin, Naked Aggression, The Need, Neo Boys, Nervous Gender (with Phranc), New Bloods, The Nuns, Ovarian Trolley, Pandoras, Pearl Harbor and the Explosions, Penetration, Raooul, Rubella Ballet, Sado-Nation, Scissor Girls, Shoppers, Skinned Teen, Slant 6, Spitboy, Suburban Lawns, Summer’s Eve, A State of Mind, Trash Kit, Third Sex, Tribe 8, Vegas Beat, and Y-Pants.

Note 1. ‘‘Making Waves’’ is the name of a compilation featuring ‘‘a collection of 12 women punk bands from the UK,’’ released by Girlfriend Records in 1981. It is also the name of a new zine about punk feminisms (mwzine.tumblr.com).


Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory Vol. 22, Nos. 2–3, July–November 2012, 361

making sure the FREAKY LADIES get represented

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Katherine E. Wadkins*

*Email: mskatherinewadkins@gmail.com ISSN 0740–770X print/ISSN 1748–5819 online ! 2012 Women & Performance Project Inc. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2012.720896 http://www.tandfonline.com


Soundtracks Contributors: Mariam Bastani, originally from Chicago, lives and works in San Francisco, where she is co-coordinator of Maximumrocknroll. She also plays in bands and joined the "Meet Me at the Race Riot" event in November 2011 at Barnard College. Contact email: mariam@maximumrocknroll.com Ceci Moss is a Ph.D. candidate and Adjunct Instructor in Comparative Literature at NYU. Her research addresses contemporary internet-based art practice, digital technology and perception, the materiality of media, postmodernism and digital art preservation. Her writing has appeared in Rhizome, ArtAsiaPacific, Artforum, The Wire, Performa Magazine, and various exhibition catalogs. Contact email: cecimoss@gmail.com Mimi Thi Nguyen is Assistant Professor of Gender and Women's Studies and Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her first book, called The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages, focuses on the promise of “giving” freedom concurrent and contingent with waging war and its afterlife (Duke University Press, 2012). She is also co-editor with Fiona I.B. Ngo and Mariam Lam of a special issue of positions: east asia cultures critique on Southeast Asians in diaspora (Winter 2012). With her second project on the obligations of beauty, she continues to pursue her scholarship through the frame of transnational feminist cultural studies, and in particular as an untangling of the liberal way of war that pledges “aid,” freedom, rights, movement, and other social goods. Nguyen is also co-editor with Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu of Alien Encounters: Pop Culture in Asian America (Duke University Press, 2007). Nguyen has published zines since 1991, including the compilation zine ...Race Riot. She is a former Punk Planet columnist and a Maximumrocknroll worker, and her zine writing is archived at "thread & circuits" (http://threadandcircuits.wordpress.com/). She is also co-author of the research blog on dress and beauty: "threadbared" (http://iheartthreadbared.wordpress.com/). Contact email: mimin@illinois.edu Iraya Robles (-bian) is a Metaphysically minded Pinay/Italian Mestiza queer femme Musician and Artist, who was in the queerpunk band Sta-Prest for like 7 years, and the bay area political punk scene awhile before that. She has an especially pronounced interested in cults, vintage clothing & design, ancient history, feminist of color archives, decolonizaton, musicology, sci-fi, and umami-flavored items. She loves the color teal & wants to learn to wildcraft herbs as well as she can dig through crates of vinyl records, in preparation for the solar flares. Contact email: irayarobles@yahoo.com Katherine E. (Kate) Wadkins is a Brooklyn-based writer, artist, and cultural worker who recently graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with an MA in Women's and Gender History. She is the Editor-InChief of International Girl Gang Underground (2011), a compilation zine and corresponding blog about feminist cultural production twenty years after the riot grrrl movement and in the wake of its legacy. Kate is a contributing writer for Hyperallergic; her work has also appeared in the NY Daily News Page Views blog, Maximum Rocknroll and Sadie Magazine, among others. She writes about art, zines, and feminist cultural production, and also hopes to continue her research on the articulation of masculinity through Detroit punk. Kate is a founding member of For the Birds, a feminist collective. As an avid zine enthusiast and art lover, she continues to curate BRAIN WAVES, a zine and print collection located at Recession Art CultureFix in Manhattan. Contact email: mskatherinewadkins@gmail.com


Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory Vol. 22, Nos. 2–3, July–November 2012, 363–369

BOOK REVIEWS Makeovers and misfits: a review of Alice Bag’s Violence Girl

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Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage (A Chicana Punk Story), by Alice Bag, Port Townsend, Washington, Feral House, 2011, 394 pp., US$17.95 (cloth), ISBN: 978-1-936239-12-2 As a queer child growing up in the predominantly machista culture of Southern Texas, I imagined myself as superhuman, fighting off homophobic and misogynist evildoers, the bullies that plagued my school. Alice Bag’s memoir, Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, confirmed my suspicion that there were more of us misfits-wannabe-superheroes out there. Violence Girl captures an imagining of otherworldly belongings that helped Alicia Armandariz navigate the hostile barrios of East Los Angeles to later become Alice Bag, singer of the infamous L.A. punk rock band The Bags. Despite The Bags’ short-lived circulation, Alice Bag (aka Violence Girl) stands as one of the few female pioneers of the early L.A. punk scene. Her work landed her in Marc Spitz’s famous oral history of L.A.’s booming subculture, We Got the Neutron Bomb, and a cameo in Penelope Spheeris’ documentary, Decline of Western Civilization. Bag is also known for her involvement in the feminist punk band Castration Squad, and her later collaboration with drag superstar Vaginal Cre`me Davis in their concept band, ¡Cholita! As queer theorist Jose´ Mun˜oz has asserted, ¡Cholita! created ‘‘socially interrogative performances that complicated any easy understanding of race and ethnicity in the social matrix’’ (Mun˜oz 1997, p. 97). Bag’s contributions as a Chicana feminist punk rocker effectively index a moment in counter-cultural production where the traversal of gender, class, and racial boundaries works as an aesthetic technique of DIY-queer world making. Alice Bag grew up in a low-income Mexican-American barrio of East L.A., surviving gang recruitment and violence in high school and a machista father who subjected Alice’s mother to domestic abuse. The constant brutality afflicted on her mother was so extreme that police, neighbors, and even a young Alice attempted to intervene. Notions of the superhero and the misfit, aesthetic experiments in the form of identity makeovers, coupled with questions of ambivalence and contradiction culminate in a story about the messy processes of surviving under the mandate of normalcy usually expressed in the form of violence and brutality. The memoir features vignette-like chapters with personal archival photographs of Alice Bag’s upbringing in East Los Angeles up until her involvement in The Bags and the all-female band Castration Squad. We also find photographs from her watershed

ISSN 0740–770X print/ISSN 1748–5819 online http://www.tandfonline.com


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trip to Nicaragua as a young teacher where she came to realize her passion for teaching and the values of most importance to her life: ‘‘purpose, community, and resourcefulness’’ (373). The writing of Violence Girl first began in the form of a blog with a title that emulates the superhero motif that flows through her voice, The true life adventures of Violence Girl (Roman 2011). At one moment, the narrator reflects on three pictures of a young Alice innocently playing while her father snaps photographs (a lifelong passion of his): ‘‘Now, I see myself differently again. I see a young girl who loved her father and was eager to have fun with him, who dreamed of becoming a superhero so she could defend her mother. I see a young girl who had little interest in or awareness of how others perceived her’’ (45). Later, in the chapter ‘‘Introducing The Bags,’’ Alice describes the performance ritual of wearing bags on their heads in order to mask the band members’ ‘‘true’’ identities: ‘‘ . . . putting on the bags and shedding our street clothes is almost more of a ritual which takes us from our ordinary state of being into an extraordinary one . . . The bag on my head makes me feel like I am protected, incognito, free to act without restraint’’ (212). Here, we see how performance is deployed as a tactic to move beyond the confines of the human and the ordinary; a gesture of concealment is reworked into a performance of freedom and potentiality. What Violence Girl shows us is how fantasizing about superheroes is ‘‘a tactic to transcend the boredom of childhood’’ (Mun˜oz 1997, p. 41). It also becomes a mode of survival for many people of color (and queer children alike). These imaginings act as a short-circuit in the dominant logic, a logic that casts minoritarian subjects into the mundane violence of the here-and-now by virtue of failing to belong to society’s over-fantasized norms. Punk, for Alice Bag, is low fidelity to identities and norms. Her identifications are always slightly off. As Alice grows up, her queer identifications lead her to an obsession with glam rock embodied in the repertoire of Elton John. Queer trajectories point her to an ‘‘island of misfit toys,’’ weirdoes, and outcasts either represented by the early famous punk rock venue The Masque or the community of outsiders living at the Canterbury Apartments (189).1 While she was younger, Alice disidentified as a ‘‘groupie,’’ over-enthusiastically following Elton to every premiere, endlessly waiting outside to catch a glimpse of her all-time hero. At one point in the book, Alice begins to take an increasing interest in Chicano politics after witnessing the L.A. Chicano Moratorium march of August 29, 1970. At the march, a deputy sheriff infamously shoots and kills Rube´n Salazar, a Chicano journalist and outspoken critic of police brutality. While trying to sign up to join a Chicano student organization at Garfield High School, the students make her feel rejected and unwelcomed after asking her why she is sporting an excessively glammed-out outfit. ‘‘I guess I looked a little too freaky for them,’’ Alice writes, ‘‘and they thought I couldn’t seriously care about Chicano politics [. . .] they were wrong’’ (103). Alice’s style (of) politics was never easy to pin down. As her aesthetic interests in music and fashion changed, Alice began to understand what it meant to be a Chicana; and ‘‘now [she] was looking beyond that’’ (102). Alice’s identity makeovers, from a


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barrio-infused Chola aesthetic to a glitter-freak, and eventually fusing the two under a darker punk flair, allowed Alice to gesture beyond the normative codes of style and identities. As hardcore punk emerges, effectively whitewashing and straightening the underground movement, Alice Bag notes that she resisted the self-indulgent move towards self-annihilation. For Alice, identities were not fixed. Instead they were performative and experimental, and more often than not, reflected a style of low-fidelity. Lo-fi performances, not only in terms of music but also in all forms of cultural production, render visible the flaws and mistakes contained within the process of identification – the mess and the excess. Violence Girl is nothing less than lo-fi. Alice’s narrative demonstrates how feeling different is a powerful mode of maneuvering through the world. For example, after becoming a regular at burgeoning punk rock shows and dating Nicky Beat of The Weirdos, she began to feel a sense of belonging with other misfits such as Bobby Pyn, Belinda Carlisle, and Pearl Harbor. In reflecting back on her group of friends and the kinships they had formed across racial and economic backgrounds, Alice confesses: ‘‘As I write this today, it is easier to see that at some point in my life between being the fat loser in grade school and the Elton John-obsessed, glitter-damaged freakazoid in high school, I bought into this assessment of myself as different’’ (189). Difference became the raison d’eˆtre of early punk, and punk articulated the heterogeneous and multiplicities of differing talents, bodies, and dreams, converging under a love for music and a desire for an alternative world. At the same time, punk became a source of anxiety, one that would eventually engulf the young underground movement: ‘‘I know that people might not always hold this view of me, but to this day I still go into situations where I’m meeting new people feeling fully prepared, guarded and expectant of the eventual moment when they figure out that I AM NOT NORMAL’’ (189). From her social position as a Chicana feminist punk rocker, Alice was privy to the many contradictions that informed her experience growing up in East Los Angeles during the 1970s and early 1980s. On the one hand, tension lay between her father’s abusive rage and his unwavering love and support for Alice. On the other hand, the police’s attempt to help and save her mother from domestic abuse stood in contrast to their excessive brutality against Chicana/o activists and punks alike. Hence Alice’s appreciation of Bruce Lee films, whereby ‘‘the good guys and the bad guys were clearly defined, with no ambiguity’’ (86). Instead, Alice quickly learns that people possess a ‘‘capacity for good [that is] matched by their capacity for evil’’ (70). A theater of ambiguity plays out throughout the memoir: a tension that imbues her story with a dark ambivalence existing somewhere beyond Chicano and punk identities, yet undergirding Alice’s queer and feminist politics. Unlike other narratives of punk history, Violence Girl does not romanticize a scene laden with its own travails and violence. Alice Bag resists creating an autobiography that wallows in nostalgia for how things were. Instead, opting for the side of indeterminacy and the messiness of life, Violence Girl articulates a process of survival against a backdrop of a world filled with contradictions and disappointments. Above all, this Chicana punk story, with its dark twists and refreshing humor,


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calls for a hermeneutics of not just surviving as the outcasts, misfits, and punks we are, but of learning how to prevail as beautiful, sexy freaks.

Note

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1. The Canterbury Apartments were also featured in an early punk song by the all-female band the Go-Go’s who formed around the same time as The Bags.

Joshua Javier Guzma´n New York University Email: jg3015@nyu.edu ! 2012, Joshua Javier Guzma´n http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2012.719307

References Mun˜oz, Jose´ Esteban. 1999. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. Roman, Gabriel S. 2011. ‘‘Alice Bag’s Memoir ‘Violence Girl’ Strikes a Chord – Orange County Music – Heard Mentality.’’ The OC Weekly Blogs. OC Weekly, October 7, 2011. Accessed December 12, 2011. http://blogs.ocweekly.com/heardmentality/2011/ 10/music_video_trailer_for_alice.php

Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness, by Nicole R. Fleetwood, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2011, US$75.00 (cloth), US$25.00 (paperback), US$7.00–$25.00 (e-book) Prefacing Troubling Vision with an anecdote from childhood, Nicole Fleetwood traces her critical inquiry into black visuality and performance back to a disconcerting exchange with her maternal grandmother. Upon introducing her grandmother to one of her closest friends, a young white girl, the young Fleetwood sensed a stark affective difference in her grandmother’s presence. Puzzled as to why this stalwart matriarch became so atypically vulnerable, she asked what was wrong and received a curt, exasperated response: ‘‘She looked at me like I was fat, black, and ugly’’ (xiii). Haunted by those words years later, Fleetwood approaches the welltrodden theoretical terrain on blackness, representation, and visibility armed with the question: ‘‘how do we return to what we already know with curiosity and openness so that new forms of knowing and recognition emerge’’ (7)? Troubling Vision begins with a brief but cogent survey of black cultural studies epistemologies, grounding readers in ‘‘what we [should] know’’ about the racialized, sexualized, and gendered black body in relation to visuality and subjugation of black people in the US. How we know these things, she argues, is predominantly via the


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black male body – a result Fleetwood partially attributes to a continued dependence on the Fanonian moment (‘‘Look, a Negro!’’). Fleetwood’s proposed revision includes ‘‘a black woman look[ing] at Fanon being looked at and hailed by the precocious white child [. . .] to demand his mother’s attention, who directs her gaze, and who announces to her and the public at large to consider the curious and frightening specimen in their field of vision’’ (27). The modification of players in that exchange allows her to consider the consequences, implications, and dynamics of each role being played in relation to performances of race, gender, privilege, and spectatorship. In Troubling Vision, Fleetwood centers those considerations as she discusses the works of various US–based cultural practitioners who purposefully make visible and visceral the Troubling Vision of the black body. Chapter one analyzes the ‘‘nontraditional’’ methodologies of photographer Charles ‘‘Teenie’’ Harris, a man who relentlessly, but haphazardly, documented the everyday life of Pittsburgh’s Hill district residents from the 1930s to the 1970s. Convinced that the strategy of ‘‘getting images of blacks right’’ (through iconographic imagery) in regards to technologies of representation and reproduction is in fact stifling and ineffective, Fleetwood constructs a dualism between the totalizing narrative about blackness created by iconic images (i.e., a staged photo of Rosa Parks) and the fluid, multitudinous narratives offered by the non-iconic (i.e., Teenie’s ‘‘disorganized,’’ partially labeled, counter-archive). Utilizing Teenie’s exemplary body of work, she argues against a continued reliance on the power of the icon and the desire for a single representation of blackness in visual discourse. Fleetwood successfully troubles the iconographic whilst demonstrating the performative potential of the collectively produced, communally valued and circulated non-iconic image for making visible those who have been obscured from black American history (13, 38, 47). In chapter two, Fleetwood moves from the photographed to the embodied with her analysis of live performances of blackness onstage. Investigating the construction of black female subjectivity in relation to colorism, she compares the protagonists from two geographically and thematically related, yet temporally distinct plays. Emma from Color Struck by Zora Neale Hurston (1926) and Alma from Yellowman by Dael Orlandersmith (2002) are both dark-skinned, Southern women negotiating their self- and social worth – the former written and set during the height of Jim Crow segregation and the latter a contemporary response to that history. Through a consideration of character development, narrative structure, and the audience’s role in visualizing blackness, Fleetwood demonstrates how both plays mark the psychological/personal, social, and political effects on black female subject formation within an economy of color always already reliant upon the optical (82, 104). At the chapter’s end, Fleetwood seems to get lost in her retelling of Alma’s fate, where, unlike Emma, she is literally freed from the burden of colorism because she has the ability to move North (85). Nowhere does the author trouble the implied ‘‘colorblindness’’ at play in Alma’s narrative where freedom and modernity are particular to the North while colorism remains produced by the South. In a chapter dedicated to highlighting ‘‘the inescapability of [the abject dark female] body,’’ the fact that the


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‘‘North’’ is not a space where one can go to ‘‘escape’’ the fact of blackness is curiously avoided (90). In ‘‘Excess flesh: black women performing hypervisibility,’’ Fleetwood delivers her third and finest chapter, unapologetically investigating the works of black female performers/artists who radically embody the problematically gendered, racialized, and sexualized dominant representations to remake new ways of being, doing, thinking, and visualizing black female subjectivity. Weaving through high art, black popular culture, and mainstream culture, Fleetwood places Renee Cox, Tracey Rose, Janet Jackson, Ayanah Moore, and Lil’ Kim center stage to develop her theory of ‘‘excess flesh.’’ Excess flesh is a concept that extends Rebecca Schneider’s ‘‘explicit body,’’ with the help of Hortense Spillers’s distinction between body and flesh, to distinguish the relationship black women have to norms of ‘‘standard’’ white femininity. A significant contribution to black feminist performance theory, ‘‘excess flesh’’ signifies the kind of performance that is not necessarily intended to be ‘‘liberatory,’’ ‘‘respectable,’’ or ‘‘real’’ representations of black female subjectivity, but rather a performance that in and of itself makes visible the inherent trouble in the ways black women have historically, socially, and politically been marked (109, 110, 112). In an effort to trace the relationship between the commodification of the black male body in advertising and nationalist ideals of a ‘‘new, cool’’ American-ness fueled by capitalism, Fleetwood takes a rather abrupt turn from performances of excess flesh toward performances of stylized masculinity in hip-hop culture in chapter four. In her shortest chapter, Fleetwood offers a familiar argument about the stylish, hyper-heteromasculine male subject as the representative of hip-hop culture, peppered with rehearsed commentary on black women’s and young white men’s primarily consumptive role in hip-hop (fashion). Her analyses of various ad campaigns and the assumed ‘‘trouble’’ she locates therein are outweighed by what amounts to a quick history of hip-hop fashion and the rise of the male hip-hop mogul. Had Fleetwood utilized her concept of ‘‘excess flesh’’ in a sustained analysis of the marketing and advertising for the rich examples she glosses over here (Baby Phat or Eve’s Fetish line, for example), the chapter may have produced a significant analytical shift to examinations of women in hip-hop fashion specifically and feminist approaches to hip-hop studies broadly (168). Ultimately this chapter lacks the fresh theoretical move-making typical to the rest of the book. Chapter five focuses on the work of one visual artist whose purpose is to make visible the ‘‘gaps, erasures, and ellipses’’ in the fabric of otherwise neatly sewn together dominant Western visual narratives specifically in regards to black female subjects (179, 182). To illustrate how multimedia artist Fatimah Tuggar’s (un)stitched aesthetic forcefully and playfully disrupts static spatialities and linear temporalities, Fleetwood discusses various photo/video/poster/collages in which ‘‘unlikely’’ elements are visibly fused together; for example, in Tuggar’s video collage Fusion cuisine (2000) an African female body is digitally inserted into a scene of idealized American consumer culture circa 1950s. Fleetwood sees in Tuggar’s works the potential to come to problematic Western representations, or a lack thereof, of black female subjectivity from a perspective that makes the problems of geographic,


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racialized, and gendered mis- and under representation highly visible. The ‘‘system of suture’’ through which dominant Western discourse contructs metanarratives regarding progress in relation to geography, gender, and race ‘‘is replaced by a compositing and fusion of discontiguous data’’ (197). Fleetwood convincingly argues that the production of visual discontiguousness short circuits the narratives of visual discourse through her analysis of Tuggar’s chosen ‘‘data.’’ Fleetwood neatly bookends the text, in tone and topic, by sharing her response to the King of Pop’s death in 2009 and the subsequent brouhaha on media outlets like Facebook for months afterwards. In her coda, ‘‘The Icon Is Dead,’’ she revisits the problematics of iconicity by centering the peculiar kind of icon Michael Jackson embodied: a specter, certainly a spectacle, detached from his ever-changing body (208). Citing the contrasting cover images chosen by Newsweek (dark-skinned, afrowearing boy) and Ebony (bleached skin, straightened-hair adult) upon his death, Fleetwood argues that the various ways in which the public struggles to re-member this enigmatic icon attests to the continuously troubling nature of black performance and the ‘‘vexed workings of blackness as visually knowable’’ (211, 214). Troubling Vision is a passionate return to the question Fleetwood asked herself as a child: ‘‘How could the look and reserved hello of a little white girl reduce [her] grandmother [. . .] to understanding herself as being fat, black, and ugly.’’ A compelling contribution to scholarship on blackness and visuality, this text provides a heterogeneous yet complimentary sampling of black visual artists who, in method and form, challenge that power-laden visual exchange by exposing their flesh in excess, by making doubly visible the seams holding dominant discourses together, and by celebrating the non-iconic, everyday performances of blackness (xiii). Jessica N. Pabo´n New York University jnp250@nyu.edu ! 2012, Jessica N. Pabo´n http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2012.719308


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Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory Managing Editor Kara Jesella, New York University Editorial Board

Lydia Brawner, New York University Barbara Browning, New York University Patricia Clough, CUNY Graduate Center Pamela Cobrin, Barnard College Danielle Goldman, The New School Elizabeth Kurkjian, New York University Debra Levine, New York University, Abu Dhabi Tavia Nyong'o, New York University Krista Miranda, New York University Alex Pittman, New York University Elizabeth Stinson, New York University Jeanne Vaccaro, The University of Pennsylvania

Advisory Board

Patrick Anderson, University of California, San Diego Alicia ArrizoÂn, University of California, Riverside Yvonne Yarbro Bejarano, Stanford University Kate Bornstein, Performance Artist and Author Jennifer Brody, Northwestern University Catherine Ceniza Choy, University of California, Berkeley Joshua Chambers-Letson, New York University Rey Chow, Brown University Kandice Chuh, University of Maryland Jennifer Doyle, University of California, Riverside Karen Finley, New York University Sharon Holland, Northwestern University John Jackson, University of Pennsylvania Janet Jakobsen, Barnard College Jill Lane, New York University Jose Esteban MunÄoz, New York University Sianne Ngai, Stanford University Cynthia Oliver, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Peggy Phelan, Stanford University Jasbir K. Puar, Rutgers University Juana Maria Rodriguez, University of California, Davis Rebecca Schneider, Brown University Alina Troyano, Performance Artist

Book Reviews Editor Krista Miranda, New York University Performance Reviews Editor Elizabeth Kurkjian, New York University Intern Summer Kim Lee

Aims and Scope:

Mission Statement

Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory is a peer-reviewed, triannual publication featuring scholarly essays on performance,

dance, ®lm, new media, and the performance of everyday life from interdisciplinary feminist perspectives. We encourage dialogue between various ®elds of performance scholarship (performance studies; theatre dance, and music history and criticism; ethnography; cinema and cultural studies; queer and post-colonial theory), and explore critiques of race, ethnicity, class, technology, and nation. About us Women & Performance was founded in 1983 by graduate students in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Since its inception the journal has operated as a feminist collective. After self-publishing for 23 years, Women & Performance was acquired by Routledge, Taylor & Francis (www.tandf.co.uk). For further information please visit our website at: www.womenandperformance.org or contact

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Business correspondence including orders and remittances relating to subscriptions, back numbers and offprints should be sent to the publisher: Routledge Journals, Taylor & Francis, Customer Service Department, Sheepen Place, Colchester, Essex CO3 3LP, UK. Tel: +44(0)1256 813 002; Fax: +44(0)1256 330 245. ß Women & Performance Project Inc. Cover Image: Photograph from Allison Hamilton, Committee (Brooklyn, NY: 2010). Courtesy of Allison Hamilton, Copyright Allison Hamilton.

Notes for Contributors

Women & Performance

The Editorial Collective of invites submissions of scholarly essays on performance, visual and sound art, theatre, dance, ritual, political manifestations, ®lm, new media, and the performance of everyday life from interdisciplinary feminist perspectives. We also welcome performative texts; interviews; book, performance, and ®lm reviews; and photo essays and images that advance critical dialogues on gender and performance. accepts proposals for themed issues from guest editors. We publish scholarship that is interdisciplinary and provocative in method and form. 1. All work should be double spaced, with 1-inch margins, in 12-point Times font. 2. Scholarly essays should not exceed 10,000 words; reviews should be approximately 1,000 words. 3. Writers should follow the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition. 4. All manuscripts must be submitted with a cover document ± including author's name, address, email, phone number, a brief bio indicating af®liation, recent publications; a 200-word abstract; and a word count of the manuscript. To protect the anonymity of the submission process, please avoid listing your name anywhere in the body of the manuscript. 5. Please title your attachment with your last name, for example: title the manuscript as YourLastName.doc, and any images as YourLastNameImage1.pdf and YourLastNameImage2.pdf and so on. 6. You are welcome to submit images along with your manuscript; however, please ensure that you have (or will) secure copyright protection for all images. cannot aid in, or ®nancially contribute to, the procuring of copyright. We will send you an acknowledgement of receipt once your submission is processed. The Editorial Collective vets all submissions before they are sent out for external, anonymous peer review. We provide reader comments, and may ask you to revise and resubmit your work. The journal makes every effort to respond to submissions within three to six months. Book reviews of no more than 1,500 words may be sent to reviews@womenandperformance.org Performance reviews of current exhibitions, ®lms, parades, performance art, dance and theatre may be sent performancereviews@womenandperformance.org References. The journal follows the Author-Date referencing system. Please refer to the latest issue of the journal for style on citing references in the text of the article and the reference list. A few common examples of references are given below:

Women & Performance

Women and Performance

Chicago Manual of Style

Journal

Chalmers, D., and A. Clark. 1998. The Extended Mind. ( ) Edelman, G. M. 1991.

Book monograph

Analysis 58(1): 7±19.

Bright Air, Brilliant Fire. On the Matter of the Mind. New York: Basic Books. Chapter in an edited book Block, N. 1995. ``Can the Mind Change the World?'' In Philosophy of Psychology, Debates on Psychological Explanation. Vol. 1, edited by C. A. Macdonald and G. F. Macdonal, Oxford: Blackwell. First published in 1990.

Titles of journals should not be abbreviated. All references should be cited in the text. Corresponding authors will receive free online access to their article through our website (www.informaworld.com) and a complimentary copy of the issue containing their article. Reprints of articles published in this journal can be purchased through RightslinkÕ when proofs are received or alternatively on our journals website. If you have any queries, please contact our reprints department at reprints@tandf.co.uk. Copyright: It is a condition of publication that authors assign copyright or licence the publication rights in their articles, including abstracts, to Taylor & Francis. This enables us to ensure full copyright protection and to disseminate the article, and of course the Journal, to the widest possible readership in print and electronic formats as appropriate. Authors retain many rights under the Taylor & Francis rights policies, which can be found at: http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/authorrights.pdf. Authors are themselves responsible for obtaining permission to reproduce copyright material from other sources.

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Volume 22

a journal of feminist theory

Volume 22 Numbers 2±3 July±November 2012

Punk Anteriors: Genealogy, Theory, Performance CONTENTS Introduction: Threads and Omissions

Fiona I.B. Ngoà and Elizabeth A. Stinson

165

Articles

Riot Grrrl, Race, and Revival Mimi Thi Nguyen

The First 7-inch was Better: How I Became an Ex-punk Nia King

Punk in the Shadow of War Fiona I.B. NgoÃ

Work that Hoe: Tilling the Soil of Punk Feminism Alice Bag

``Freakin' Out'': Remaking Masculinity through Punk Rock in Detroit Katherine E. Wadkins

Writing Zines, Playing Music, and Being a Black Punk Feminist: An Interview with Osa Atoe Elizabeth Stinson

Means of Detection: A Critical Archiving of Black Feminism and Punk Performance Elizabeth Stinson

173 197 203

Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory

Women & Performance:

Issues 2–3

July–November 2012

ISSN0740-770X 0740-770X ISSN

Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory

233 239 261 275

&

Black Love? Black Love!: All Aboard the Presence of Punk in Seattle's NighTraiN Jasmine Mahmoud

Sodom's Daughters: The Removed and Forgotten Black Female of Punk Culture Gigi McGraw

Preserving Contradiction: The Riot Grrrl Collection at the Fales Library Lisa Darms

Soundtracks

L. Brawner and E. Stinson

we are destroyers of the status quo Mariam Bastani

REMOTELY FEMALE Iraya Robles

I HATE HISTORY Ceci Moss

Making Waves: Other Punk Feminisms making sure the FREAKY LADIES get represented Katherine E. Wadkins

325 335 343 345 347 353 355 361

Book Reviews

Joshua Javier GuzmaÂn

Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness Jessica N. PaboÂn

363 366

Performance Review

Ethan Youngerman

371

July–November 2012

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

Issues 2–3

Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage (A Chicana Punk Story)

Volume 22

Mimi Thi Nguyen

315

Punk Anteriors: Genealogy, Theory, Performance


Punk Anteriors: Theory, Genealogy, Performance